Christmas is over and so are the presents, meetings with friends and family and heavy meals. But what about shopping? At Christmas, this has only just begun. January and its famous sales are about to start. This means that the traditional period for paying off debts accumulated during the festive season now begins in February. The city has become a large shopping centre and shopping is a pleasure, but things were not always like this. Until the 1960s, in any rural area in Spain, nearly all the basic necessities were covered. Most homes had a piece of land with some fruit trees, a few hens to produce eggs and meat, their own homemade pork products and wines. What was missing at home? Shoes, clothes for special occasions, articles for the kitchen, screws... all these things were bought in large shops found in the main street. These shops were crammed full of articles and their smells and colours became their most effective publicity.
In the cities, there were more specialised establishments and although it was possible in the outlying areas to buy the most basic articles at street markets and in local shops, many people when into “the centre” to do their shopping. The three Aragonese capitals have one or more areas where traditional shops are grouped together. These shops have stood the test of time and nowadays we look to them with the admiration of those who know that most small shops cannot compete with the large shopping chains of today.
In the case of Teruel, the most emblematic shops are found right at the heart of the city, in the area around the old market. This square, now known as the Plaza del Torico, was previously used for both commercial transactions and bullfighting. This area has traditionally been and will probably continue to be an outstanding meeting place and was still the site of the local market until quite recently. This had some influence on the style of the buildings with their columned arcades where goods could be stored and people could shelter from the elements. Of all the businesses in the area, the most notable is La Lencería – Pañería Ferrán, which has been open since 1820. The premises the shop occupies are well worth a visit, on the ground floor of one of the many jewels of the Modernist style found in Teruel, La Casa Ferrán, which was designed by the architect Monguió. This shop has seen its sales change over the years from made to measure suits to industrially produced goods and has always known how to adapt to the latest market demands. In the surrounding streets, traditional shops have made way for other more innovative ones, making this a fashionable shopping area where it is almost impossible to find vacant premises. Here you can find the surprising En casa del Herrero, Cuchara de Palo and La Librería Perruca which opened its doors in 1890 as a printers and then became a printers and book shop under the name of Senda.
Also emblematic are the shops offering pottery from Teruel. These include the shops belonging to the Punter family where you can find everything from the most traditional pieces to other more innovative designs adapted to modern tastes.
In Huesca, the square dedicated to the brilliant writer of local customs Don Luis López Allué, is also known as the market square. There have been shops and stalls here for many years and there is now a local street market on Mondays which has rekindled this activity.
This peaceful square has a series of arcades which give it the feeling of a main square, an atmosphere well suited to strolling and buying and selling. Underneath the arcades you can find the shops with most character in Huesca. These include Balaguer, La Confianza and Almacenes San Juan para vestir a la moda. Of all the shops in Huesca, Ultramarinos La Confianza is perhaps the most beautiful of all. It preserves an air of traditional and quality and is the fifth oldest of its type in Spain. With shelves full of goods and a mixture of heady smells including salted cod, conger eel and sardines that remind us of traditional shops from days gone by. La Confianza retains the distinguished air of a high class establishment thanks in part to the paintings created by the most famous 19th century local artist León Abadías y Santolaria – beautiful allegories and 19th century still life paintings. They provide a symbolic commendation of commerce in which Mercury, the god believed to protect small businesses, occupies the central position and is surrounded by symbols alluding to this business area.
No less traditional, but less spectacular is the neighbouring Casa Balaguer: loza y cristal, in which the accumulation of objects forms a multi coloured space. The shop sells everything from the most basic household items made from china and glass to a variety of decorative objects like images of saints and madonnas, artificial fruit, plates and trays to commemorate anniversaries – a celebration of the kitsch element present in all homes.
In front of Casa Balaguer we can find Almacenes San Juan which has resisted all kinds of adversities to continue offering fabrics and other goods to its clients.
The area around the Central Market in Zaragoza has long been the home to traditional shopping in the Aragonese capital. The market itself serves as a central point in the middle of the rest of the businesses in the neighbouring streets. These include establishments with the character of Cordelería Sieso where it is difficult to resist trying on a good pair of traditional shoes and where you can find a wide selection of baskets, ropes and nets for collecting almonds. For anyone who does not live in the country, Las Drogas Tirso Juste looks more like an ethnological museum than a shop. Here you can find earthenware jars, bellows, baskets and even pitchforks. These were all everyday household objects in days gone by and nowadays are mainly used to form part of the decoration of country houses in Zaragoza.
Another traditional shop is La Reina de las Tintas, which specialises in materials for binding and is a joy for both professionals and amateurs. La Estilográfica Moderna is a remarkable establishment that not only sells magnificent ink pens, it also offers a repair service that is a luxury in these days in which we use things and throw them away. It seems that time has stood still in Bodegas Almau – there have been few changes to this charming place since its founder opened the shop’s doors in 1870. Here you can still find a “un vinico de misa” (wine used in Mass) and remarkable liqueurs such as Colungo coffee liqueur, cherry liqueurs and another made with the leaves of raspberry bushes from the Pyrenees, produced in the Monastery of Veruela. Until not very long ago, you could buy wine by the litre and keep it in a leather wine bag made by Botería Ramón Abadías, the only company of the many that used to exist that is still active in Zaragoza.
Although the list could be much longer, we will finish with two establishments that may not be “traditional” in the same way as the others mentioned, but have won a place in the collective memory of the people of Zaragoza. How can we forget the emblematic Sepu and Almacenes Gay, which opened the way to another type of shopping in which you just go in and look around and in which people discovered the pleasure of going shopping, an activity that seems very normal nowadays but has not existed for very long.