Madrid store uses pesetas gimmick to keep sales up

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A stationery-bookstore in central Madrid allowing customers to pay in pesetas and getting their change back in euros has brought in more customers.

5 August 2008

MADRID - "Will you pay in pesetas or in euros?"

"In pesetas, please."

This exchange was often heard in Spanish shops in the first two months of 2002, the transition period when both currencies were still in circulation.

Now it is being heard again in a stationery-bookshop in the Letras district around Huertas street in central Madrid.

In fact, its owner had already tried this formula for two months in 2003.

This year he tried it again, and has extended it indefinitely.

The peseta ceased to be legal tender on 1 March 2002, as Spain switched to the euro.

Since 1 July 2002, it has been exchangeable for euros only in the Bank of Spain. The central bank accepts both notes and coins.

In 2007 some 5.158 billion pesetas were handed over in return for EUR 31 million, but there are still estimated to be 300 billion pesetas jingling in Spanish pockets, equivalent to about EUR 1.780 billion.

"People keep bringing out pesetas from under stones," says an exchange teller at the central bank.

The old currency turns up in unlikely places. In pockets of outmoded clothes at the back of the wardrobe; between the leaves of a book; in a mattress from an abandoned house.

Fernando Losada, owner of the stationer's at No. 3, Calle Alameda, noticed this fact and decided to give the old money another chance. It might also be good for business, he thought.

"It wasn't out of nostalgia - more of a publicity gimmick," the stationer explains. Sales increased, though not much.

This year, with its ever-lengthening catalogue of economic woes, he has decided to try again:

"With the crisis, people will be rummaging in cupboards."

A calculator on the counter is an indispensable tool. Buyers turn in pesetas and take away pens, books or writing paper. Change comes in euros, on condition these be less than three. So that if you buy, for example, a EUR 20 book with a 5,000 peseta note, you have two choices: buy something else for EUR 10, or lose EUR 7 on the change.

Not a bad business. Later, Losada takes his gatherings to the Bank of Spain.

This peculiar exchange operation began in April and was to end in May, but the favourable reception has prolonged it. Passersby are curious about the sign, "Payment accepted in pesetas".

"They're intrigued; they think we are collectors," says Losada. And in fact a few collector's items have come into his hands, such as a 1,000-peseta note printed on only one side. One lady purchased a pencil sharpener for 25 pesetas, in one-peseta coins. But most buy books.

"Of the 50 copies we have sold of Ruiz Zafón's latest book, 40 have been for pesetas," says Losada, who has closed the shop for August vacations, but plans to resume the exchange plan in September during the back-to-school rush.

[El Pais / Alvaro H. Rivero / Expatica]

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