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The demise of traditional shops and bars in Spain

The demise of traditional shops and bars in Spain

Traditional shops appearing in local news over the past twelve months has saddened me.

The essence of Spanish traditions are being challenged. Perhaps drowned is a better description.

Steadily franchises are taking over Spain. Already well established in large capitals such as Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia these shiny new stores are now flooding streets of provincial capitals too.

Basket shop Granada Spain


Spain´s Traditional Shops

July 2015

Last month the café Commercial in Madrid closed, it had been in business for 100 years. Founded on 21st March 1887 it was also one of the first Madrid cafés to employ women. 

December 2014

Many small family businesses closed at the end of 2014. When Spain celebrated the New Year 2015 the dramatic increase in shop rent killed off many business. This happened due to the change in the ´Renta Antigua´. Generations of artisans and traders were forced to close their businesses. This means the end of trading for many characterful stores across Spain. Although Granada and Madrid are cities which particularly suffered.

In Granada there are not lots of fast food restaurants and coffee bars in the city centre. There are some but far less than in other similar sized towns. I´m sure that this is a good sign for the city. 

Luckily locals here are used to their neighbourhood bar and are keen to pay 1 euro or 1.20 for their morning coffee. 

Spanish Food at Granada Market

This summer alone I have seen International franchises open up in both Granada and Almeria. These new businesses stand right next to traditional bars haberdashers and ironmongers. The worry is that the young Spanish shun the traditional stores for these shiny new international brands. Armed with their huge marketing machines and instantly recognizable branding.

I am not against progress; I would just prefer this to a little more balanced.

Perhaps people don´t take a moment to stop and realise that newest is not always best.

Traditional shops often have more variety and sell individual pieces, rather than pack.

traditional shops Granada Spain

The plight of the Spanish bar

Not only is the humble corner store impacted. Traditional Spanish bars across the country have to compete with new gastro bars (This reminds me of a similar situation in the British Public houses. The typical village pub vs the Gastro pub)

The new trendy bars (and place to be seen) are quickly popping up and taking over city centres. Sometimes the new places don´t have ´real´ waiters. Waiting staff  can´t remember orders. They use tablets to punch in the drinks. Do they really have a good knowledge of their trade? Not always.

When I eat out I certain expect the restaurant staff to know about local produce and great recipes? But it seems now that it is more important for them to know about search engine optimisation to get their name out there to the masses.  

I know which I prefer. 

Square plates

Having a smart interior and a square plate seems to go along way these days. Myself I´m more about provenance. (I live in Andalusia which is suffering high unemployment so I want to support local businesses and producers) Why use apples from South America if I can have them from a local village in Granada province?

Up until recently I visited a bar every day for coffee and toast. The waiter knew exactly what my order was Mon-Friday (Leche Manchada + tostada integral con jamon york) and then what the order was on weekends and bank holidays. (Leche manchada + suizo mixto)

The service is personal. This waiter knew when my football team had won or lost and which newspaper I read. (only one of the four papers win that the bar had available) When I walked past the window on the way into the bar he was already preparing my order most days. This attention to detail kept me a loyal customer day in day out. Sadly the owner retired and the café is now run by other people. It´s not the same.

Cherigan Tapa in Almeria SpainIn July I was at one of the main Spanish airports and went to buy bottled water. They were only selling a french brand. However the bottle had a fancy label with the monuments of Spain on it. A bottle of overpriced water with a label encouraging me to Enjoy Spain really isn´t going to work for me I´m afraid. Solan de Cabras, Lanjaron, Font Vella… they have some many others to choose from.

It makes me think that I must be the only one questioning these trends. When I am travelling in Spain I want to support Spanish companies and brands as much as I possibly can.

Pick a traditional Spanish bar

  • Look out for a large metal or wooden counter.
  • On the bar somewhere there will be a glass display case with the days tapas or pastries laid out.
  • There may even be a litter of paper napkins on the floor.
  • The people in the bar are locals.

Here´s a video in Spanish about the situation of traditional bars in Madrid


What is the solution?

Maybe we are too far down this road to resolve this situation but there are some things that could help. City planning and parking certainly isn´t helping at the moment. Historic old towns don´t allow space for lots of car and car parks are very expensive.

Some of the Food markets in Spain are undergoing revamps to provide tapas and gourmet experiences as well as great produce. This way they have business in mornings and afternoons.

Maybe traditional places can offer WiFi to bring in a younger crowd (if they don´t already offer it)

The main way to slow down this grim trend is by voting with your feet. If you use these traditional shops and bars then they may survive.

But are there enough of us?

If not sadly the identity of Spanish cities seems to be at risk of being lost forever


Feel free to recommend in the comments Traditional Shops  and Businesses in Spain which you know…

  1. It is hard for traditional establishments and family businesses in this country. I do what I modestly can to support them in Madrid, in case anybody is traveling over here:

  2. Sarah Alexandra George says:

    This is so true and very sad, that’s one of the things I love most about Spain – how you still have those bars with paper scrunched up across the floor, and they have years and years of personality and wonderful food! Would be such a pity if they disappeared 🙁

  3. Kevin says:

    This is a problem of the modern Era of Global Free Trade. Large corporations have the advantage of economies of scale. They have cheaper costs of goods sold, logistics, and labor. They can rely on global name recognition, so travelers and young or new locals go there because it’s what they know.

    Here in Austin, Texas where I live we have the same problems. Local shop, restaurants, bars and music venues are constantly driven out of their locations, victims of their own success.

    These local businesses move into (or were already in) low rent “undesirable” locations, drawing in other businesses and new residents looking for hip locations with cheap rent. As the reputation of the area groes, so do the rents. Eventually the rents are so high the only chain stores and restaurants can afford them, driving ggd locals out of business.

    The Austin solution is the consistent and relentless message to “Buy Local” and to “Keep Austin Weird.” Most every local business posts this fact on a physical bulletin boards and on their Websites. They list the names of other local businesses that you might like.

    This is all tied into the Environmental Ethos of Austin with the slogan “Think Globally, Buy Locally.”

    • Molly says:

      This movement in Austin, Texas sounds amazing.
      A great model that other locations should use as an example
      Thanks Kevin for this information.

  4. Jacqueline says:

    In America, this is obviously the norm. However, there is one small town near where I grew up that is doing a pretty good job maintaining local and traditional stores & restaurants. There, much of the community has banded together to support each other (even though it’s a little more expensive) and not the big name stores and restaurants. It’s so refreshing to see!

  5. It’s such a shame – and it’s happening everywhere! Or worse: has happened already to a point of no return.

    Not only are traditional businesses being pushed out by international franchises, traditional meals and services are being lost in the process too. With services I mean places like old-fashioned hardware stores, where you could ask and get advice, buy 4 bolt if you needed 4 bolt, not a blister-pack of 20 with matching nuts (which you might not need for the job at hand). Or your traditional seamstress or tailor, who shortened you skirts and pants for a few coins. Or try to find a real shoe repair place these days.

    At the other end this trend is creating more waste, because you can’t find the old-fashioned offerings anymore.

    • Molly says:

      Luckily in Spain we still can buy single quantities of screws in local ironmongers stores (but I wonder for how long)
      Cobblers and seamstresses are also easy to find and good value too.
      Yes the make do and mend idea is certainly less common than it used to be and is great for the enviroment.

  6. Jane Browning says:

    Sadly I must agree with your comments but would like to make a small point. When we moved to our village, which has a moderate ex-pat community, we found that many of the local bars had opaque windows and closed doors. When you are a stranger this is a very daunting prospect. We took note of the places used by the ex-pats but after a few weeks we decided most of them were not for us and to take the plunge and investigate what went on behind these closed doors. (I always sent my husband in first!) Result: a warm welcome, great coffee, local food and wine at sensible prices and a great way to learn the language. Maybe more of the traditional bars could consider making the outside more attractive to visitors who, let’s face it, are a large part of the customer base these days?

    • Molly says:

      Thanks Jane, yes some bars in rural areas can look a little daunting for those unfamiliar with spanish life.
      I´m glad you had a great experience.

      • Lynda Wood says:

        It was months before I discovered many of the shops in my village and what goes on behind the door curtains!

  7. Meg Jerrard says:

    Thanks for writing this Molly, I agree with you that it’s sad that this culture is being wiped out with new franchises, and I feel that this is being wiped out across the world. Though I do agree with you that we as travelers can attempt to make a difference by voting with our wallets, by visiting these authentic places instead of frequenting places like Starbucks when traveling abroad.

    And I love your tip about how traditional places can perhaps offer WiFi to bring in a younger crowd. The sad reality is that if they don’t at least attempt to modernize a little I fear they’ll soon be completely wiped out 🙁

    Thankyou for the post, and for letting us know how to spot an authentic Spanish bar. I’ll make sure we’re not spending our money towards a franchise when we next visit Spain.

  8. Catalanbrian says:

    I find it quite astonishing that in a country like Spain, where it is almost impossible to find a bad cup of coffee, that in the touristy areas the likes of Starbucks, are flourishing, despite the fact that Starbucks would not know a good cup of coffee if it jumped up and bit them. Clearly there are a number of tourists who only feel safe when they have their comfort blanket of the blandly familiar with them when they are on holiday. I am not sure that it is the young Spaniard who is seeking thrills in these glitzy places.

  9. enna says:

    Oh and I forgot to say,, the shops that sell woven bags and things like that are from China

  10. enna says:

    My village is the same as it has been probably 50 years ago after Franco, we have discovered the cost of inter-marrying although new shops have opened here and shops have closed. Not far is the (city) and the likes of Zara have opened up but thats what the younger generation want. When I first came here, I couldn’t believe that on Thursday lunchtime was the procession. People who didn’t have ovens would pay the baker a euro to cook their evening meal. It was so funny, the wife carrying the tin and husband following up behind. Then collecting the meal, the husband would carry the hot tin home with the wife smiling coming up behind. There are so many funny things, that we take for granted now – but don’t like living here. It was meant to be our holiday home and now we are here permanent I miss the hussle and bussle of town life where concerts are held for 3/5€ (should be more really) lots of people walking down the main tree lined walkway (paseo) and it always amazes me how people can afford to buy items. Unless……. they carry perfect paper bags advertising a shop just to carry things in. I love my neighbours and they love me but I’m getting to THAT age when the heat gets to me.

  11. David Pensure says:

    Hi Molly

    I live in Estepona,not many Gastrobars yet. Still a lot of Traditional Spanish Bars & Restaurants. But I see Burger King is saying they want to expand in Spain. Alright for the Brits who enjoy Fast Food but these outlets are enticing the Spanish Youth away from their Traditional Healthy Eating venues. Keep the big conglomerates away from Spain please.

    Thank You

  12. Jacques says:

    Dear Molly,
    Always read your blogs with a lot of pleasure.
    I recognize so much of what you write.
    But this article gives me such a sad feeling.
    We’ve seen that in Holland too.
    Most of the shops ran by locals are gone and “replaced” by the big chains.
    They can afford the high rental prices. Locals cannot!
    Starbucks and even that horrible MacDonalds in old historian buildings.
    Luckily not in the small mountain villages in the Alpujarras and Almijaras and even not in Málaga.
    Regeneration of main street town centres indeed need to be addressed in many places, but it fails.
    Lowest priority of local government and that so called liberal freedom is a killer too.
    “Free enterprise” at unpayable prices

    • Molly says:

      Thanks Jacques for your kind words.
      I hope there is still time for provincial Spain to slow this trend or at least stay as we are now.

  13. Nathalie says:

    It’s a sad trend in many places. People are saddened by it but it’s up to all of us to uphold our cultures and keep the traditions going.

  14. Chris Gamble says:

    I remember my home towns of Kettering and Leicester with Corner Shops, Mid Street Shops and Village Shops now all defunct. killed off by US ‘Out-of-Town car reliant model. Moving to Spain I was struck by the huge number of little shops and kiosks all supporting families and their local communities. (Where in Northern Europe are there Olive Shops that also sell work boots and hats?). But, these little shops are a means to support whole families with tax dodges and are mainstays in a black economy so the death knell is sounding load and clear. What is needed is a regeneration of main street town centres rather than following a now defunct ‘out-of-town’ model that does not fit with ecology and the environment. Better to follow a ‘Tesco Local’ model. The key problem is local authorities trying to generate inward investment rather than communities and this leaves Spain as an easy target for Multi-Conglomerates and category killing retailers like Media Markt and DIY Multiples to move-in freely and destroy life as we know it in Spain. Already a handful of Companies, and especially petroleum (Cepsa and Repsol etc. already rule the roost of politics in Spain.

    • Jacques says:

      Hi Chris,
      I fully agree that the key problem are those local “authorities” (without knowledge) trying to generate inward investment rather than communities. Like in France (hypermarché in the meadows and no “boulanger” in the village) leaves Spain as an easy target for Multi-Conglomerates and category killing retailers like Media Markt and DIY Multiples to move-in freely and destroy life as we know it in Spain.
      Just drive the Autovia Mediterraneo to Málaga and you’ll see Orwell like buildings outside town. (Velez-Málaga)
      And the poor Spanish without a car? For them e.g. Mercadona has a shop in town with rather inferior products at low prices.

    • Molly says:

      Yes I think the regeneration of main street town centres is something that needs to be addressed in many places, not just in Spain. Not sure if there are any sucess stories in the rest of Europe.

  15. Pablo says:

    I agree with this. I try my hardest to support the local bars and shops. I really hope Bilbao doesn’t get that oft-talked about Starbucks when the local bars have much better coffee and service. I don’t know what can be done to save the traditional places. My heart broke when I heard about Café Comercial.

    • Molly says:

      Hopefully people realise that we need to support these businesses by using them (often) and local authorities need to support the commercial city centres (everywhere not just Spain) is perhaps a more solid way that they have been doing up to now. I wonder why we never see Park & Ride schemes in Spain?
      Nottingham also is an historic town and has a great Park & Ride service from several points in the city (South, North etc)

  16. Lynda Wood says:

    I loved your article, but so sad that this is happening. If the young Spanish don’t embrace and protect their heritage it will disappear
    Traditional cookery is fading away too. with the young eager to consume fast food and ready meals.
    In my village, mostly inhabited by farmers and the elderly, little has changed, apart from the rows of four wheel drive cars vying for parking in the narrow streets, as the young have moved to the bright lights and employment opportunities of Granada, Madrid and Barcelona.
    Thankfully, being elderly myself, I won’t live to see the march of ‘progress’ in my beloved Spain.

    • Molly says:

      Thankyou Lynda. I feel that Spain has more of an opportunity with this than perhaps other countries. The culture and society are steeped in tradition and things take a while to change. It would be great if at least some of these gems continue into the next few decades

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