CAROLINA PALLÈS, THE FLORISTIA CAROLINA
“Yes, that’s right, I’m a fifth-generation florist. My great-great grandmother sold flowers in the street, at the doors of the Liceu and other theaters. It was her daughter, my great-grandmother, who first bought the stall on the Rambla. That was in 1888, when the Universal Exhibition was held here, when the Columbus monument was built. Back in the day, this was where the city’s bourgeoisie lived and met. So my great-grandmother grew quite fond of it and ended up staying here. She had hands of gold and real strength of character. You have to understand that working on the Rambla was very difficult back then. It was not like the shop we have now, with heating and air conditioning. Back then there wasn’t even running water. There were people whose job it was to take jugs to a fountain to bring water. The working day started well before sunrise. The wholesalers would come in at 4 a. m. to sell their flowers to florists, right there on the street — the business worked that way right up until about the ’70s. The shops and stalls would open at 8 a. m. and wouldn’t close until 6 or 7 p. m., depending on what time of year it was. Opening and closing shop was quite a task, too. When we go home now, our stall stays there for all to see, all lit up and beautiful. Back in the day they had to break the thing up and carry the pieces back behind the Rambla, that’s where the warehouses were.
There are sixteen flower shops on the Rambla today. You’ll immediately know which is the domain of Carolina Pallés, a charismatic blonde. First of all, there’s the sign with the family name on it. And all they have is flowers, tons of flowers, and nothing else. Ever the champion of tradition, the owner of the city’s oldest floristeria is firmly set against compromises – selling souvenirs, for instance, like her neighbors with their Chinese fridge magnets, seeds that grow obscenelooking peppers, Mexican sombreros and whatever else they may put on display. Maybe this is why tourists don’t often stop in front of her shop with all those photos from the family archive adorning its walls. For Barcelonans who know their city’s history, however, this shop has no competition. And the packaging paper at the shop, an imitation of old newspaper clippings, is a rare delight!
Where: Rambla de Flors, Parada 10, Metro Liceu
My grandmother was a marvellous woman. Nowadays, if a celebrity is coming to the Rambla, we get a phone call ahead of time. But back in her time visits like that were always a surprise. One day Alexander Fleming came to the Rambla — she didn’t even know who that was. When they told her he had discovered penicillin and got the Nobel Prize for it, though, it took her maybe a minute to make up a rose bouquet and present it to the doctor. Every newspaper in Barcelona carried their photograph. All in all, she was lucky enough to get to know many important people of the era — Federico García Lorca, for one. He came to Barcelona a year before he was shot. His play was at the Teatro Principal, Doña Rosita the Spinster and the Language of Flowers. They needed flowers for the show and my grandmother was in charge of that. Every day she would make rounds of her friends and colleagues and ask each of them for one flower. And then she would have all the flowers sent down to the theater. Lorca was so grateful to my grandma and all the flower girls on the Rambla that one night he had the theater opened just for them and their families. If you ask me, that evening was a powerful, really emotional thing to do!
Grandma was thirty-four when her husband died, my mom was only nine or so. They started picking her up after school so she could lend a hand at the shop. It was here that she met my father. He was from a flowergrowing family in Maresme, but when they got married he moved to Barcelona. Now things were really hard for them. Thankfully, our generation was much luckier. As a kid, I would come here and they’d do something like this — they’d give me four little flowers, say, and I was supposed to try to make a bouquet. I started learning the trade, little by little, but our parents never really forced me or my sister to do it. They always told us we had to go to school and study, it was an opportunity the older generations simply never had. After we finished school, my sister and I both studied to do clerical work. Now we work together, my sister and I. Mom is 81 and she feels great. She had heart valve replacement surgery, though, so she can’t work anymore. But even just two years ago she would still come in and take over when we were having lunch. I don’t have children myself, my sister has two kids. Maybe one day one of my nephews will take over the business. Or maybe it will just close. That would be a sad thing, yes, but everything has its beginning and its end. Anyway, I think all the sacrifices our family made for this business have not been in vain.
In recent years studies have shown that family business remains Catalonia’s leading form of business organization. Between 55 to 70 percent of all companies remain family enterprises. Gathering steam with the onset of the industrial revolution and weathering the Civil War and Franco’s dubious economy policies, they have since become the engine driving the Catalan and even the Spanish economy, with the most enterprising and successful of them even making it onto the global market. For example, Puig, still managed by the Puig family today, is a major player in the fashion and perfume sectors, operating under such brands as Nina Ricci, Carolina Herrera or Paco Rabanne. It started out in 1914 as a small enterprise, owned by Antonio Puig, who kicked things off importing French perfume and manufacturing lipstick. These days, the company markets its products in over one hundred and forty countries, boasting scores of branch offices and thousands of employees. The twenty-two-story glass tower that houses its corporate headquarters in Barcelona was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo.
Adolfo Herrero, the Bonanova Restaurant
“Family business in Barcelona is intimately tied to immigration. In the early 1900s and after the Civil War, Andalusia, Aragon and Galicia were struck by famine. Looking for brighter prospects, people from these regions made for the big cities. When they succeeded in making money, they then began to think about opening a business of their own, usually in the line of work they already knew best. If they had slaughtered animals, for example, they might open a butcher’s shop; if they had fixed engines for a living, they would start a garage. That’s my father’s story. He was fourteen when he came to Barcelona from his village in Teruel. All by himself, no education to speak of. At first he worked at a butcher’s shop as an apprentice — he didn’t even get paid, but he did get a place to live. Later, when he did manage to pick up a bit of money, he went to study at the academy. Then, finally, they took him in at the El Cantábrico restaurant. He would peel the anchovies and open the oysters, things like that. My mom came from the same area Dad was from. She worked as a seamstress just off Plaça Reial. She was nineteen when she married my father.
This family restaurant, managed by the second generation of the Herrero family, has not so far been included on any list of places of significance for Barcelona’s cultural or historic heritage. A couple of decades down the line, it just might be. Paintings and drawings by Spanish and Catalan masters vie for space on its walls with early 1900s posters promoting Barcelona’s beaches. The old diamond tiles on the floor have been carefully restored. The smell of freshly baked bread and the sound of voices, most of them Catalan, fill the air. A sip of ice-cold cava and one can easily forget it’s the 21st century. The eldest of the brothers, Adolfo, who lives upstairs from the restaurant, usually meets and greets all the guests, sharing the latest foodie news with them – what mushrooms are particularly good today and what wine would go best with that divine sea bream. Listening to him, you learn more interesting things than reading the Michelin guides, in which Bonanova has had a place for several years now.
Where: Sant Gervasi de Cassoles, 103, FGC El Putxet
With what savings they had, they managed first to rent this place, and later to buy it out. Meaning they started their business from scratch, that was in 1964. the building is much older, though — almost ninety-eight years old. When Dad became its owner, he did his best to preserve its aesthetics and its atmosphere. Mother worked the oven, she put a lot of passion into her cooking, taking her time with it. People came to eat here from all over Barcelona, some very important people among them, too. They’d come to eat and drink and play pool. There was a very lovely velvet curtain that separated the bar from the dining area. The pool tables were there until I was about seven, when the place was thoroughly renovated. My sister Cristina, my brother Carlos and I started helping out here when we were kids. Together with our parents, aunts and uncles, we did a little of everything everything at the restaurant. I remember Granddad working the bar and shouting: “Sandwich!” “Croissant!” “Carajillo!” You’d just work through the day, without a break. By eighteen I already had my own car, and a motorcycle, I was studying at one of the best in town and wore the trendiest clothes. I had everything I wanted, but it didn’t just land in my lap — I worked for it. My father was very proud that I worked here, proud of the way I showed him by my efforts how much I loved it.
I am fifty now. My sister is forty-five and my brother is forty-one. I am the maître d’hôtel and take care of PR. Cristina does the accounting and Carlos manages the kitchen. He decides what foodstuffs to buy and what dishes we are going to make. All in all, he’s the chef and he likes it when we call him “chef.” (Smiles) Had we wanted to, I think, we could have had ten restaurants by now. But what we chose was something different — earning our money by doing something we really love and enjoying our lives. Will my son and daughter want to continue the business? Somehow I doubt it. And my nephews? Who knows, they’re even younger than my own kids. By the way, my sister’s children, Ivan and Nikolay, were adopted — from Russia. They come from a small Siberian village about three hundred km outside Novosibirsk. All in all, we have thirteen people working at the restaurant. We never really hired waiters, cooks or sommeliers with real professional training. We always trained them on the job to be professionals. There are some who have worked with us for ten, twenty, even thirty years. And we stay on, too. And it’s certainly not because we’re worried people may steal from us, but because the business is our own. It’s because we truly feel this is our business. There’s a saying: “It’s the owner’s care that fattens the cow.” If you ask me, business is a personal thing. Nobody’s going to do it for us the way we do it ourselves. My father is seventy-five and my mother is seventy. They have property and they have their own money. They can travel as much as they like or spend time in the village they left when they came to Barcelona all those years ago. They are happy that their children are carrying on their business. Although we do disagree sometimes on some things — what family doesn’t? For instance, today father popped into the restaurant and got a bit nervous because he couldn’t quite figure out what it was we were doing on Facebook and Instagram“.
Studies have shown that in recent years family businesses have been more likely than others to ride out economic storms. That’s probably true, but it hasn’t prevented Barcelona from losing many of its most iconic businesses that had been passed from one generation to the next. Most of them closed because the owners could not get new leases on their premises due to rising prices, which in some cases jumped from 1000 to 10,000 euros. Public pressure led the city authorities to create, in 2016, a special catalogue of iconic commercial establishments scheduled for protection due to their architectural, historical or artistic importance. Of the 228 establishments on the list that can now count on support from City Hall, thirty-two were granted the maximum level of protection and recognized as untouchable (in the best sense of the word, of course).
Pilar Subirà, Subirà Candle Shop
The city’s oldest candle shop sits right on the divide between the Gothic Quarter and Born. Both neighbourhoods are very popular with tourists and both have their fair share of sights to see — yet crowds of curious foreigners are drawn to the richly decorated Subirà storefront like moths to a flame. It is particularly busy before Christmas, when Pilar Subirà and her workers almost never have a moment to sit down. Here’s an old lady looking for those special candles she wants for her granddaughter’s baptism (and a chat with the cashier, of course); in the other corner, a pack of giggling Japanese girls are admiring a pink wax flower bud the size of a giant’s head. A couple in love is waiting their turn in the doorway, a dozen vanilla and cinnamon-scented jars in their hands. There’s no hurrying at Subirà. When it’s your turn to be served, they give you all their time and attention. This has been their way since the eighteenth century and we have no doubt the twenty-first century will be just the same.
Where: Baixada Llibreteria, 7, Metro Jaume I
It all started way back in 1761 when a candle maker named Jacint Galí decided to start his own business. His workshop and store were somewhere else, though. They only relocated here as Via Laietana was being constructed. The business was already in the hands of another family, the Prats, by then. You have to understand that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries candle makers were something like what electricity companies are today. They had real power and sat on the Council of One Hundred that once governed our city. The post-Civil War era, the first third of the twentieth century, was another matter entirely. That was the time when my grandfather, Paulí Subirà, was in charge of the shop. He came to Barcelona from Vic. He had a tough task, trying to rebuild a business that had been nearly ruined. Raw materials were in short supply — besides wax, back then they often would animal fat, pig fat mostly. My grandfather had to turn to the black market to get it. The candle makers’ guild was losing many of its many members in those days — there were fewer and fewer candle factories and shops with each passing year. I know they were particularly mad at the churches — they were starting to wire them for electricity, and of course they had been the candle makers’ best customers. Thank God a new fashion reached us from northern Europe, where they used candles not just as a source of light, but to create a special kind of mood. That’s what let the candle industry in Catalonia survive the crisis.
Granddad had nine children and he offered them a choice: they could stay in the family business or they could go to university. My father, Jordi Subirà i Rocamora, was the seventh child. He chose to stay in the shop, where he worked from the age of eighteen to when he was seventy-eight. For sixty years he was the heart and soul of the shop. He cared for all these statues as if they were his daughters. He’s eighty now. Do I have any memories about this place from when I was a child? After Granddad passed away, Grandma would spend most of her time in the shop, serving the customers. And in her last years she just sat here on a chair with her knitting. I remember another thing, too, a rather unpleasant one — in 1969, when I was four, we had a big fire. It destroyed the workshop completely, but thankfully the part of the shop with the decorations was spared. My father bore the smell of that fire on his clothes for years.
I don’t think there was one special day when I suddenly decided that now I worked in the shop for real. I started giving father a hand when I was twelve, on Saturdays, or when he was away on vacation, or over the winter holidays. I was here more and more because his health was slowly deteriorating. Two years ago he finally retired, and then I started thinking: was I going to keep the business alive, a business that had been going for two hundred and fifty years, or was I going to shut it down and end the cycle. I really did feel the weight of that decision, but it was the right thing to do, for me to take on that responsibility — that’s how part of your own story gets written. In the end, I decided I should carry on my father’s work, even though my own training was in music. I still continue to work at a classical music radio station. Of course, I can only to do it part time now. I am in charge of the store now. I don’t get paid for the work I do here. I just do my best to make sure that everybody else gets paid and we stay in business. So I’m an altruistic businessman (smiles). I assign the tasks, I decide what things we’ll order more of and what we don’t really need at all. I keep an eye on everything that might need fixing or a fresh coat of paint. My cousin is a manager. She crunches the numbers, she likes that. We have four other women working in the shop. We all take turns at the cash register from time to time. And we all talk with our customers. A business like ours cannot just rely on locals, especially now, when tourism is such a big thing. But sometimes people do come in and tell us they used to buy candles here half a century ago.
About a year ago, Catalonia’s state Centre for Public Opinion Studies conducted an intriguing survey attempting to determine what parts of their lives Catalans valued most. Respondents had to choose between family, work, friends, leisure, politics and religion. 87.5 percent of them chose family as their top priority, while twelve percent stated that relatives were of utmost importance to them. If we sum those numbers up, family was a landslide winner with 99.5 percent, Catalonian society’s undisputed top priority.
Artemi Carreras Bartolí, La Torre knitwear shop
My grandfather was Daniel Carreras Jubert. I was only four when he passed away so I didn’t have the chance to get to know him. He was orphaned at an early age and a friend of his parents took him in and raised him like his own son. This gentleman did business in Catalonia, where he owned a number of lingerie and haberdashery shops. So when he decided to open La Torre in 1900, grandfather — he must have been about eighteen or twenty at the time — helped him get it started. And later he became the head of the place. He lived right here in the shop, sleeping on the wooden counters. It also had a place where they washed clothes and a room we still call the kitchen, even though it hasn’t been one for a long time, of course. Grandpa only started renting a separate room upstairs later, when he had some money.
Grandpa knew how to save money. But he was a good person, too, hard working and always ready to help others. And he was very smart. A neighbouring shop owner started copying everything that he did and put it in his display window at a lower price. The same sweater, but a little bit cheaper. The same jacket, but just a bit cheaper. So Grandpa bought another jacket, and this time he put new buttons on it, in a different colour, and put it right out in front where everyone could see it. Then he didn’t have to worry that his neighbour would undercut him — how was he going to find exactly the same jacket and buttons? Ninety-five percent of our stock at La Torre has always been undergarments. There was this time when we also sold clothing for sports. That was in the early 1900s, when everybody was crazy about football and kids were kicking balls in every courtyard in town. We used to sell shirts, too. Before the Civil War started. They cut the cloth right here in the shop and gave it to the seamstresses to sew, they worked out of their own homes. Grandma would sometimes come in to lend a hand at the cash register. But in our family the women didn’t help run the business. Just because it’s a family business doesn’t mean the entire family is part of it — in any case, there has to be one person really in charge. So even after my father, Artemi Carreras Jaume, came in, it was Grandpa who ran the place./p>
Gèneres de punt La Torre
It’s not only its long standing that makes La Torre one of the most iconic shops in the neighborhood. We think it’s the stunning old-fashioned storefront with all those neatly displayed snow-white undershirts, drawers, bras and other garments. It’s all touchingly quaint — some passersby can’t help smiling when they first come upon the place. Artemi Carreras Bartolí, the grandson of the shop’s founder, is too proud of his business to notice. La Torre is well known for its attention to the quality of the clothes on its shelves, stocking only items made from top-quality natural materials like cotton, wool and silk.
Where: Pl. Universitat, 4, Metro Universitat
Father is still the owner of the shop. He is in excellent health but he’s not that young anymore — he’s ninety-four years old. So he stays at home. He started working early in life, when he only around 14. When they changed the tax laws in the 1940s, it was Dad who had to figure out how it all worked because Grandpa was already too old. But I don’t really think there was this one particular day when Grandpa started giving him the important jobs here. Father just learned on the job, working and gaining experience. It was the same way for me. I got married at twenty-seven and I had to decide what I was going to do with my life. I had studied music, I played the flute, I could have passed the exam and I would have gotten a place in the orchestra. But I chose to work here at the shop. Why? Well, for one thing, I knew I wasn’t a musical genius. And also I was not really excited about the idea of working for someone else. And I already had a good grasp of the way things worked here at La Torre, I already knew a good deal. Now I work here with my daughter, Mònica. I can’t really say if she’ll carry on with this business. You just never know. But I think she will. She’s good looking, charming, always smiling. She’s friendly, very good with the customers — I just love watching her work in the shop.
There are lots of those big shopping malls around now, but they’re no real threat to us. They deal with customers in a different way, they’re not going to take care of them the way we do. And then we get a lot of older folks. They’re not looking for exotic sexy lingerie, they need something they can wear every day. All of life isn’t a party. It’s like a bake shop — you only buy pastries when there’s some kind of special occasion, but bread is something we buy every single day. We never changed our concept here at La Torre. We do things just the way we always have. We still write bills by hand, for example, no computers. I think if things have worked fine for a hundred years, there’s no point in changing — you can only mess things up and ruin what you have.
In the early 1900s Barcelona was often home to successful start-ups. Some of these grew to be truly global businesses. Danone is a household name all over the world, for example. But how many people know who is really behind our habit of eating yogurt in the morning? Isaac Carasso, a Jew who migrated to Barcelona from Greece, rented the basement of number sixteen in Carrer dels Àngels, where he set up a small laboratory and started producing yogurt that initially was only sold in pharmacies. That business proved quite lucrative. But things really took off after his son Daniel took over the company. Isaac’s heir introduced new packaging, started adding fruit jam to his yogurt, and, in 1968, commissioned the first ad campaign for Dannon Yogurt. And although Carasso Jr. eventually moved his father’s business to France, he never forgot where it had all started. In 1994, he came back to Barcelona to put a plaque on the house in the Raval neighborhood where his father had produced their first yogurt back in 1919.