Neighborhood Spanish Establishments Closing

Many times we don’t even notice them – until they’re gone. We walk by them day after day. On occasion we’ll pop in to buy someone small. In other cases it’s where we do our near-daily shopping.

I’m talking about the local shops where we buy our meats, the shops where we buy our chicken, the shops where we buy our fresh daily bread, and the shops where we buy our snacks. These shops are most often owned AND operated by the same person – or maybe operated by the son or daughter of the owner.

With the fast influx of foreigners into Spain from many different nations, the common ownership of cars, the prevalence of “Centros Comerciales” (i.e. Malls) on the outskirts of the city, and the sprouting “Los Chinos” (owned & operated by Chinese and selling China-made goods for cheap) throughout the neighborhood, the Spanish-owned individual shops are closing at an unsettling rate. I say it’s unsettling because many Spaniards – and their families – are losing their livelihoods, and the friendly faces we’ve been seeing day after day are leaving us, replaced by new faces having unusual accents and many of whom have difficulty speaking Spanish.

Today I saw one of these store owners in the neighborhood as I was passing through. We stood on the street corner and talked for a few minutes. I thought it odd that she was on the street at this particular hour, an hour when she’d normally be working in her store. I asked her if she was working today and that’s when she told me that TODAY was her last day with the store and it was closing. She said the recent break-ins, the cost of needed renovations, and the slacking business has made it difficult to make a living. She said she and her husband were leaving the neighborhood too.

Many days I’ll walk by her tiny shop as it’s on the main street where I live. And there she is, sitting on a small stool behind her counter, watching a tiny black and white TV. No business. She works 6-days per week and closes 3 hours for lunch/siesta. I mentioned to her once when buying some snacks that she carried so many (food) things. She said, “I carry a lot so that I might sell a little.” Her shop is in the “old style” of Spanish shop where the customer walks in and waits at the counter, asking the clerk for this or that and the clerk retrieves the requested items from behind the counter on various shelves.

She’s been in this neighborhood in her store for the last 20 years or so. Everyone knows her in the neighborhood. Everyone likes her. She’s a short, squat Spanish woman who speaks her mind very directly but always has a smile on her face and always very talkative. She knows all of my “Spain family” by name and always asks about them. As far as I’m aware, she’s the last Spanish-owned store of her kind in the neighborhood. All the (many) other stores in the neighborhood are run by Chinese people.

Maybe I’ve had a little something to do with the Spanish woman deciding to close. Her shop is farther from my house than the Chinese run store directly across the street so I tend to do my snack-and-drink-and-last-minute-necessity shopping there. This shop is a typical self-serve convenience-store-type place where you
walk in and choose items on shelves. Plus, this place next door is open every day of the week, opens at 9am (or earlier) and closes at about 2am (or later) every night. It does NOT close for lunch/siesta. I sometimes see the clerks eating meals in the open store. The Chinese women who works the shop is there at ALL opening hours. God, that must be something. She’s very very nice, always has a big smile for me when she sees me enter her shop happily waves at me while I’m waiting for the bus across the street. She always calls me “Mi amigo! Mi amigo!” but those are almost the only words of Spanish she knows apart from her numbers – and oftentimes I don’t understand her, causing her to spin her calculator around to show me the total.

Across the street from my building was a bar like no other bar in the neighborhood – and it was right there, across the street. It was very small but very very nicely decorated with a rustic, wooden decor. The owner/bartender was a 50-something Spanish man who expected to make this his “Retirement Bar” where he’d pass his last working years serving drinks to good neighborhood folks who appreciated a nice, friendly place with a friendly bartender. I liked him immediately upon our meeting. He and his wife served a wonderful, home-cooked, no-choice “Menu del Dia” every afternoon for 8 Euros in the tiny back room which only had five small, 2-person tables. The meal was always something hearty like Cocido Madrileño, Pork Chops and potatoes, or something similar. I ate lunch there about once a month and went in for drinks with about the same frequency. The free tapas offered with drinks were simple but good, plentiful, and always served with a genuine smile and a story to tell.

A couple months ago he closed his bar after being open only one year. I was there on his last night and bought a couple bottles of his leftover Rioja wine. He stated there just wasn’t enough business to stay open although he did enjoy the quality of clientèle at his bar. Unfortunately, the bar didn’t suit the neighborhood in which it was located. Across the street there is a wall-paper-pealing, loud-football-game showing, no-tapas-offering, terrible-coffee serving bar and it’s doing just great! It’s run by a Latino family whose bar tendress seems, from her facial expression when you walk in the door, to rather throw wet coffee grounds at you than serve you a beer. Some customers don’t know quality when it punches them in the nose. In fact, many people would rather take a punch in the nose than pay 10 Eurocents more for the beer at the nice, friendly bar across the street – the one which closed.

So I’m sad to know the Spanish woman is closing her shop down the street and leaving the neighborhood. I could have patronized her shop more and probably should have. I could have been more of a “Regular” at the bar across the street too but I just don’t drink that much and my Spanish wasn’t good enough to feel 100% comfortable while surrounded by talkative Spaniards.

It’s sad to lose the places and people we like, settling for things which simply serve a purpose with no added benefit of actually enriching our lives. Luckily, many of the “toda la vida” shops are still hanging on. But for how long?

The above are just a few case files for the “Changing Face” of Madrid – and Spain.

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