Although the United Kingdom has been in recession for the past five years and many high-street shops are currently derelict and hidden behind sheets of hardboard, I doubt if the average British retailing street looks much worse now than it did when all its shops were open. Composed of soulless modern frontages, plastic chain-store logos, sterile internal lighting and huge blank panes of glass, those shops were eyesores even before the economic rot set in and many of them closed down.
One of the little pleasures offered by my recent jaunt to Barcelona was the chance to stop on a street now and then and admire a traditional shop, with an ornate and antiquated façade, whose windows displayed a handsome arrangement of goods that suggested that the art of window-dressing was not yet dead, at least on the Iberian peninsula. On a British street, no doubt, these lovely little establishments would have long ago been ripped open, gutted and transformed into a branch of Boots the Chemist’s or W.H. Smith’s.
Here are photographs of a few Barcelona shops that caught my fancy.
Firstly, here’s the magic shop El Rei de la Magia (www.elreydelamagia.com) at Number 11, Carrer Princesa, which was founded by the conjurer Joaquim Partagas in 1881 and sells stage-magic tricks and paraphernalia and practical jokes. For a long time, it was the only shop of its kind in Spain.
Lurking at the back of one of the shop’s display-windows is a poster for a show by the early 20th-century magician Harry Jansen, a Dane who performed under the stage name of Dante. Jansen used the supposedly magical words ‘Sim Sala Bim’ as his stage catchphrase and appeared in the 1942 comedy movie A-Haunting We will Go alongside Laurel and Hardy.
At Number 7 on the same street is Arlequi Mascares (www.arlequimask.com), which is famed for its production of Venetian-style carnival masks. Looking at the wares in its windows, I felt that if the late, great Angela Carter had gone into the retailing trade instead of making a living writing baroque gothic fantasy stories, she would probably have opened an establishment like this one.
Meanwhile, up at Placa del Pi is Ganiveteria Roca (www.ganiveteriaroca.com), a shop that sells and repairs knives. Its windows contain the most intricate displays of tools for cutting, slicing, chopping, peeling, trimming and (potentially) stabbing that you could ever hope to set eyes on.
Its collection of shaving utensils gives pride-of-place to several gorgeous but lethal-looking cut-throat razors, the likes of which I’d only seen before in a Jack the Ripper movie.
Finally, here’s an interior photograph of Cereria Subira, a candle shop that has been on the go since 1761, although it moved into its current premises at Number 7, Baixada de la Libreteria, in the relatively recent year of 1847. Inevitably, its products have changed with the times and nowadays it sells a lot of scented, novelty and New Age-y candles; but at one point its main business was supplying candles for ceremonies in Barcelona’s many churches and cathedrals.