We discovered a big reason everyone says, “Barcelona! You’ll love that city!” It took us a few weeks to figure out just where the magic comes from.
The shops in our neighborhood are mostly small and carry a wide variety of merchandise. They’re not in the least the cookie-cutter, big-chain stores that we’re used to. The windows and signage tempt shoppers with their wares.
Obach Sombrereria (berets) – Joe and his purchase
Coses de Casa (fabrics, towels)
Marioneta Travi (marionette store)
PoloPalo (gelato pops)
Lluis Manuel Sabeteria (espadrilles)
Life in the city has an upbeat rhythm. People stroll the city streets – sometimes shopping, meeting friends at little cafes, out on an errand. The old narrow lanes are mostly car-free and often lead to open plazas with trees and outdoor café tables. Sometimes you’ll see a little playground for children encircled by a low fence.
So, you ask, what is it that sets the old historic section of Barcelona apart from other cities? The answer was rent control for all those little independently owned shops. We read an article in “The New York Times” saying small shops in Barcelona have had their rent controlled since 1964. That protection allowed the shops to flourish.
We started to think of other places we’ve been. Very few cities have shops like those we’ve seen in Barcelona and certainly not as many. We know many factors work together to contribute to a vibrant city. One factor in Barcelona: its small shops that give character and life to the historic district.
According to the article, rent control has ended now after a 20-year period allowing property and shop owners to negotiate new rental agreements. Changes are taking place. Some of the small shops are closing or moving since the rents are now unaffordable. Some big chain stores are moving in. Will Barcelona be able to keep its small shops and maintain its way of life?
The magic of Barcelona for these last years is a lesson for other cities. It’s great to be a healthy city, but even better to be a vibrant one. Now Barcelona confronts how to maintain it.