August Closings in Madrid and Spain

There’s very little traffic. There are lots of parking spaces are available. Fewer people are evident in downtown Madrid – except for the tourists.

These all sound like wonderful assets for those Spaniards whom stay close to home in Madrid Spain and in the non-beachside cities around the country. We love the city tranquility!!

What we DON’T love – visiting tourists including – is the large percentages of bars, restaurants, and stores closed for the entire month of August. “It’s only fair,” we tell ourselves. “These hard working people deserve a vacation too.”

It’s totally understanding when we give it a second thought. But if we don’t, we feel frustrated that we can’t enjoy a porras for breakfast or cañas at our neighborhood bar. We also feel frustrated when we go to our favorite restaurants in downtown Madrid and find them closed – particularly when I’m taking visiting tourists!

The good thing – if it’s all that good – is that thanks to a new City of Madrid regulation, shops in the Puerta del Sol zone can now stay open 7-days a week. These shops and bars in this zone really never do close except maybe the smallest, more specialized stores. This sounds good – and it is for shoppers – but for workers, most of them underpaid non-Spaniards, hardly get a break all summer long.

But outside of the Puerta del Sol zone the contrast is stark. Many many restaurants, even some of the popular ones with tourists, close for the entire month of August – or less often in July. So many times I’ve hosted visitors from the United States and am excited to take them to XYZ restaurant. But when we arrive, more than 50% of the time we find them closed and we set a new trail in search of some other OPEN, lesser known or unknown restaurant which MIGHT have good food or good service. And on top of all this IT’S HOT and no fun walking up and down streets in the midday sun searching for a restaurant, finally just picking one because it’s open and serves food, just to escape the heat and sun. On the UP-side, I’ve discovered some very nice restaurants and bars I maybe wouldn’t have otherwise found JUST because my favorite bars and restaurants were closed.

The museums are always open all summer as are the train and bus stations – which always do booming business with the influx of tourists from outside – and inside – Spain. The fast food shops stay open as do the big chain stores like El Corte Inglés and FNAC. So there are choices for dining and shopping but the selection is cut deeply in August.

Just the other day I was in downtown, in the PUERTA DEL SOL area, no less, and found my favorite ALL SPANISH, non-touristy bar closed for the month of August. I was very disappointed but certainly not surprised. The big more touristy bars like the Museo del Jamón are always open but those small, few remaining all-Spanish owned and operated bars will often close. THEY are maintaining the tradition of closing in August – while losing business to the competition. Hopefully they’ll earning enough in the other 11 months of the year to make up for 1 months of losses.

“Los Chinos” or convenience and dry-goods stores usually operated by Chinese people are open nearly 365 days a year, open early and stay open late are systematically putting small Spanish family owned and operated stores out of business whom close for August, close at midday on Saturdays and closed Sundays and holidays. The competition of “Los Chinos” is fierce and has already changed the face of businesses in Madrid and throughout Spain, have changed opening hours, and ways of doing business. One local neighborhood Spanish store owner whom closed last year told me that she “had to carry everything in order to sell something” and it still wasn’t enough. More and more closing bars and restaurants are being bought by Chinese people stay open more hours, days, and make money while their Spanish competition is closed.

But we really can’t blame the hard-er working immigrants coming to Spain to make more money and to find a relatively better way of life for them. We really can’t blame them. And we can’t blame the Spaniards whom choose to close in August and for holidays in order to maintain the long-time Spanish way of life that everyone took for granted for decades. “WORK TO LIVE, NOT LIVE TO WORK” is the Spanish credo and one I love but is definitely foreign to me coming from the United States.

I’ll someday write another blog entry about the lack of stores and restaurants open 24-hours – something I LOVE about the United States. That might very well be the end of traditional Spanish culture should it come here.

 
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