sábado, 15 de noviembre de 2014
La desaparició del patrimoni comercial de Barcelona al New York Times
The removal of traditional stores from the old city center, known as the Gothic Quarter, is “a criminal loss of patrimony in a city that is getting drowned by big money and international brands and is losing all sense of history, order and proper urban planning,” said Josep Maria Roig, the owner of La Colmena, a pastry shop founded in 1872.
Mr. Roig, who is also the secretary of an association of traditional stores, estimates that 100 more stores will shut their doors in Barcelona this year because their owners cannot afford the higher rents. Across Spain, about 200,000 store owners may be affected, according to UPTA, the professional and autonomous workers’ union that represents independent store owners.
Xavier Banchs, the toy store owner here, used to pay 1,000 euros, or about $1,275, a month in rent for his shop, the Palacio del Juguete (the Toy Palace), which his family has owned since 1936, when Spain’s Civil War started.
He handed it over to Geox, which is paying about €35,000 a month for his former shop, according to Mr. Banchs. Geox also paid him some extra cash to move out and cover the cost of laying off three employees who had sold his toys for decades but were no longer needed in his smaller shop, a former storage room that costs €800 a month in rent.
“This has been a long countdown, so I’ve had time to get over the sorrow of moving out and getting rid of my staff,” Mr. Banchs said.
While many store owners have cut similar deals, a significant proportion have chosen to fight the changes, demanding that Barcelona’s City Hall grant them special protection as owners of stores that have emblematic value for the city.
Barcelona has set up a commission that is reviewing 380 store buildings to decide whether they should be granted special protection.
Spain’s rent controls were adopted in 1964, in the midst of the Franco dictatorship, when the regime decided to protect shopkeepers. In 1994, the law was revised under the Socialist government to ensure that rents would eventually adjust to the market, giving property and store owners 20 years to agree on new terms.
Raimond Blasi, Barcelona’s city councilor for commerce, admitted that the fate of such historic stores should have been reviewed well ahead of the end of the lengthy transition period.
“There were 20 years to solve the problem, but last-minute improvisation is a trait of the Latin character,” Mr. Blasi said. If stores get protected, Mr. Blasi said, some compensation would most likely have to be paid for loss of rental income to the property owners, “but who has to pay for it, I don’t know.”
Mar Escutia, a professor of civil law at the Esade law school in Barcelona, said, “We’re facing a situation of absolute legal chaos.” It could, she added, set off legal complaints before the European Commission, on the grounds that any publicly funded compensation amounts to unfair subsidies and a breach of European competition rules.
In fact, legal action has already started in Barcelona. Mr. Roig recently took the city to court for not fully protecting a building that housed Monge, a stamp shop that closed in August.
The new owner plans to convert Monge into a shopping gallery and move the building’s historic wooden facade to the other side of the building and replace it with a larger entrance.
“Do we really want tourists to go home only with souvenirs from a shopping gallery that are made in China and have zero to do with Barcelona?” Mr. Roig asked.
The rent deadline comes amid a wider debate in Barcelona about what kind of tourism the city can sustain. Barcelona has become Spain’s tourism hub, drawing a record 7.5 million visitors last year, compared with about 1.5 million visitors before 1992, when its port area and other infrastructure were overhauled for the Summer Olympics.
In July, residents of La Barceloneta, a seaside district, held street protests to complain about rowdy tourists staying in overcrowded and unlicensed rental apartments.
With Barcelona and other Spanish cities set to hold municipal elections next May, such issues have also moved up the political agenda.
Ada Colau, who is expected to run for mayor as the candidate of a recently formed, left-wing civic platform, said that she and her family had in fact stopped going to the Gothic Quarter because it was overwhelmed by foreign tourists and global brands.
“The main attraction of Barcelona is a certain way of living, but we’re allowing this to get replaced by what I would call a fast food model,” Ms. Colau said. “The traditional stores are getting evicted and the big multinationals are winning.”
The opposition Socialist Party has also proposed a draft law that would extend the century-old protection to the business activity rather than only the facade and furniture of a store.
Mr. Roig saved his pastry shop by signing a new, 15-year rental contract with the building’s owner that will raise his rent to €7,500 from €1,000 a month.
Mr. Roig said the owner had better offers, but was convinced to allow La Colmena to survive. La Colmena contains wood paneling made by Cèsar Martinell i Brunet, an assistant to Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona’s most celebrated architect.
To offset the higher rent, however, Mr. Roig is set to lay off two of his six employees, as well as increase the price of his bread and pastries by 5 to 10 percent.
Mr. Blasi, the councilor, said that though shopkeepers may now seek to challenge the rent law, what politicians could not do was to dictate where tourists shop. He himself admitted that he had walked past the recently closed bookstore Canuda, opened in 1931, several times, but never bought anything there. “However much we don’t like to admit it, people prefer to go to Fnac,” he said, referring to the French media retailer, which has outlets in several countries.