Madrid shoppers fail to spend on first day of Sunday opening

28th January 2008, Comments 0 comments

New legislation designed to boost business around central Sol area.

28 January 2008

MADRID - "What a pain! Everything's closed." The disappointment was evident on the faces of Jaribel and Jovana, a Mexican and a Dominican who had been planning a marathon shopping spree in the centre of Madrid on Sunday.

Last Sunday was the first that shops around the historic Puerta del Sol square could open under a scheme aimed at boosting tourism revenues in the city by giving visitors - and residents - more time to shop in the old part of town. Previously, shops in the capital, like elsewhere in Spain, had only been allowed to open on pre-agreed Sundays and public holidays, usually during big shopping seasons such as Christmas and Easter. But giving shopkeepers the opportunity to open does not mean they will use it.

Apart from the El Corte Inglés department stores, most other large outlets remained closed. Those that did open had few customers, probably because few people - unlike Jaribel and Jovana - had been informed about the new opening hours.

"It's a really quiet day," complained Esther, standing behind the perfume counter at El Corte Inglés on Preciados Street. Esther is nonetheless happy that the department store will open every Sunday from now on as it has given her a chance to supplement her income with part-time employment as a perfume clerk. Others, however, were not so happy.

"I think it's awful," complained an assistant at clothing retailer Cortefiel. "As if the usual opening hours weren't enough to go shopping in..."

Most big retailers evidently think the same. Zara, Bershka, Oysho and all of the other stores owned by Inditex, Spain's largest fashion retailer, remained closed, as did outlets around Sol belonging to H&M, Mango and Benetton. Many people only found out that stores were open - or meant to be open - by chance. Carmen and her daughter, for example, had travelled to Madrid from nearby San Sebastián de los Reyes to go to the theatre. "But seeing as I'm here I might as well take advantage of it," Carmen said as she waited outside a handbag store on Gran Vía.

The Madrid regional government declared the area around Sol to be of commercial interest to tourists on 9 January and allowed shops to open as many Sundays as they like. A week ago Sunday was the first real test of the scheme, as stores had already been scheduled to open throughout the region on 13 January.

Among storeowners the reaction has been mixed. Many small shops say they cannot open because they would then be working seven days a week, while bigger stores are debating whether sufficient numbers of the public will be around to make opening worthwhile.

"The situation will remain the same, because despite this law being perfect for the big stores, even they don't find it appealing, because there are too few people," argues Florencio Delgado, the president of the Madrid Centro Federation of retailers. "Maybe in April or May when the tourists start to arrive things will get better," he added.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / ELENA G. SEVILLANO 2008]

Subject: Spanish news

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