“We are suffering, but less than other areas of the city.” This is the opinion of Lluís Sans, owner of the Santa Eulalia fashion company and president of the Passeig de Gràcia Association, an entity that groups the shops on this commercial axis in the center of Barcelona.
In recent months, five chains have closed or will close their establishments on Passeig de Gràcia, including brands such as Desigual, Lacoste, Lotusse, Camper and Oysho. In addition, Nespresso, which had a place where the old Boulevard Rosa used to be, moves to the neighboring Rambla de Catalunya, the parallel street but more facing a Barcelona public and with more local brands.
In fact, a few years ago some chains, such as the Catalan optician Cottet, already left the most touristy areas of the center -in that case the Portal de l’Àngel- to open new shops on the Rambla de Catalunya. The closures are also being noticed in the cross streets -those going in the direction of Llobregat-Besòs-, where you can see more shops with the shutter down.
“There has always been movement on Passeig de Gràcia, and perhaps there are more closures now,” said the president of the shopkeepers in the commercial area, although he did not think it would be a very large increase. “It’s a street with a very expensive square meter and it always has a certain rotation, because there are companies that try it and then the numbers don’t come out,” he adds. Therefore, the closure of shops is, he says, relative, as the planned openings have become a reality or will be made in the near future. Fashion and shoe brands such as Moncler, Balenciaga and Golden Goose have recently opened, as has the Audemars Piguet watchmaking.
Half a year of difficulties
With the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, trade found itself at the epicenter of restrictions, with special suffering during the hardest months of confinement, in March and April, when it had to close. When the stores reopened, it was with many capacity restrictions and having to make significant investments in additional security measures, such as screens or disinfectant gel.
In the case of shops in the center of the Catalan capital there is an added problem: restrictions on mobility ruined tourism. Precisely the Passeig de Gràcia, due to the fact that it is the great commercial axis of the city for prestige and location -crossing from top to bottom the Eixample just in the central part- is nourished by all possible types of customers in the city: visitors near Barcelona, foreign tourists and the people of Barcelona themselves.
“We live off foreign visitors, but also from outside the city,” says Sans about the origin of buyers. In this sense, it is worth noting that Passeig de Gràcia, like other commercial areas in Barcelona, receives customers who travel to buy in Barcelona from time to time from other parts of Catalonia, but also from nearby regions, such as Aragon, the Balearic Islands. or the south of France. “Barcelona is a capital, and many people have it as a reference” beyond Catalonia, adds Sans about the types of visitors that the symbolic route has.
The visits of Catalans and Spaniards froze with the declaration of the state of alarm, but with the demise of the summer they revived a little, despite still being below the levels before the pandemic. In contrast, in the case of foreign tourists, the collapse has been much more significant and continued, both EU and, above all, those outside the European Union – Asian, American and Russian.
The simple fact of having tourist attractions such as La Pedrera or La Mansana de la Discordia make Passeig de Gràcia a must-see place for both the tourist with less purchasing power and for those looking for the big brands that are concentrated in this street. .
Impact on the center
This decline in tourism has affected many other commercial areas in the center of Barcelona. The Rambla, the Portal de l’Àngel and the Gothic Quarter empty during the summer have been paradigmatic pictures of the pandemic, and traders and restaurateurs are suffering more than ever to survive. Also the Born, a neighborhood with a lot of small business focused almost exclusively on tourists, is having many more closures.
The almost desolate images of the Rambla are not seen on Passeig de Gràcia, which does not mean, as Sans indicates, that the emblematic road has not strongly noticed the current recession.