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Friday, November 11, 2022

Catalonia plans law to protect historic shops as rents soar | Catalonia

The Catalan government is to introduce a law to protect historic businesses as soaring rents and the pandemic have forced many of the region’s landmark shops and bars to close.

Shopfronts and other details that are more than 100 years old are already protected but the pioneering legislation goes further, with shop owners in listed premises having to ask permission if they want to change its commercial activity. In short, if a patisserie closes it will ideally reopen as a patisserie.

“What we need to do is to protect the non-material heritage,” said Sònia Hernández, the Catalan government’s director general of cultural heritage. “The existing law doesn’t protect things that people now believe we need to protect. The facade and the interior of some buildings are protected already; now we want to protect the activity as well,.”

The aim is partly to prevent a repeat of what happened to Colmado Quílez, a much-loved grocery store that had stood on La Rambla de Catalunya since 1908 and was forced to close in 2014 when faced with a 700% rent increase. The signage has been preserved but the window display of wine and conserves has been replaced with expensive suits, obliterating the shop’s essential character.

The Musical Emporium, now a bureau de change
The Musical Emporium, now a bureau de change. Photograph: Stephen Burgen/Guardian

Some historic businesses struggle on, such as Casa Beethoven on La Rambla, which has sold music scores since 1883 and is now an outlier among the bars and souvenir shops that dominate the city’s most famous street. It only survives because it has a low fixed rent.

Further up La Rambla, the Musical Emporium, which sold sheet music and instruments for 114 years, is now a bureau de change, and Camiseria Xancó, a purveyor of shirts and underwear for 203 years, succumbed to the pandemic.

Rent rises forced the closure of Herboristeria del Rei, which had been selling herbal remedies since 1818 and was appointed herbalist to the Spanish royal family in 1857. Others at risk in Barcelona city centre are Xarcuteria La Pineda and the glove and fan shop Guantería Alonso, relics of the city’s history in a sea of chain stores.

Hernández accepts that as things stand the government cannot stop landlords raising the rent, but believes a growing awareness that there is more to conservation than a handpainted sign may help to conserve what remains of Catalonia’s commercial heritage.

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