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Despite Spain’s economic abyss, key fashion retailers here say Barcelona’s tourists are saving the day.

This story first appeared in the May 20, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain with tourists from all over the world, which fuels [retail] growth. Thanks to the ever-growing number of visitors, Loewe’s business last year at the Paseo de Gràcia flagship yielded the highest growth of its 170-store global network,” said Loewe chief executive officer Lisa Montague.

She attributed the positive results to the store’s renovation by Peter Marino and “Spain’s best artisans, who discovered and restored original stuccos and decorative Art Nouveau finishes. Loewe is very proud to occupy one of the city’s most emblematic [Modernist] buildings, and the Paseo de Gràcia is [a landmark].”

Expanded to 10,000 square feet, the three-level luxury leather-goods store — the world’s largest Loewe unit — re-opened in March 2012. It houses the brand’s multiple collections and the first Amazona Atelier, a bespoke corner.

Santa Eulalia ceo Luis Sans said, “Barcelona is insulated from the Spanish meltdown, like a bubble in the middle of a desert. It’s protected by international tourism.”

The Catalan capital accounts for half of Spain’s total non-European Union purchases, he said, and “Paseo de Gràcia is the most pedestrian-trafficked street in Spain. It’s human and intimate with a little bit of everything, including high-profile locations and major tourist attractions like [Antonio Gaudi-designed buildings] La Pedrera and Casa Battló — and it’s the country’s third most expensive street,” he added.

In general, retailers reported a sales ratio of about 20 percent local and 80 percent tourists — mainly Russians; Americans from cruise ships, as Barcelona is one of Europe’s leading cruise harbors; Chinese, and Japanese.

A spokesman for Bottega Veneta said sales are driven by Russian and Asian tourists. The Italian leather brand opened a 2,153-square-foot store at the top of Paseo de Gràcia one year ago.

On average, rent for a 200-square-meter (2,153 square foot) locale is 2,400 to 3,000 euros a square meter annually, which translates to $287 to $359 a square foot, depending on location and facade, said local real estate broker Mónica Manguillot.

“A few properties on Paseo de Gràcia dropped rents about 5 percent in 2009 due to the crisis, but prices are currently stable,” she said. “There is a lot of demand here and high-profile retail activity, with some closures and new brands coming in, but not much is available.”

Two recent entries are H&M’s newest chain & Other Stories, which houses a full range of women’s ready-to-wear, accessories and beauty products. “We are very happy to open our Barcelona store in this magnificent location,” said Samuel Fernstein, head of the brand, at last month’s inaugural. “We want to get to know our Spanish customers — and to be inspired by their fashion vision.”

In February, Mango rolled out its 16th point of sale in Barcelona, a two-story locale at 36 Paseo de Gràcia.

“With the new store and 7.5 million tourists in the city, we are reinforcing our worldwide visibility,” said Mango expansion director Daniel López.


The city’s draw, according to Manguillot, is its “avant-garde culture and artistic tradition, from Salvador Dalí, Picasso, Antonio Tàpies and Gaudi to gastronomy, fashion and the beach. Barcelona is a major tourist attraction with visitors staying a minimum of four days.”


Population: 1.62 million (2012)
Population change: Virtually unchanged — 1.62 million in 2011, 1.6 million in 2008
Per-capita income: 19,900 euros or $25,816 (2009)
Disposable income: 32,062 euros or $41,587 (2009)
Key Industries: Fashion, publishing, finance, high-tech, manufacturing, tourism, energy, pharmaceuticals, biochemicals, automobiles, food, tourism and trade events
Number of Malls: Nine within 18 miles of the city center
Other major construction projects: A new terminal at Barcelona’s El Prat Airport, said to be able to handle 55 million passengers a year; Proyecto 22@Barcelona, a $232 million urban renewal plan to convert 500 acres of industrial property on Barcelona’s north-eastern edge into a concentrated area for technology companies and tech-based activities, production facilities, technical services and housing with a strong real-estate potential.


Slicing through the tony uptown neighborhood called L’Eixample, the Paseo de Gràcia (or Passeig de Gràcia, in Catalan) accounts for 60 percent of total purchases from non-European Union customers in Barcelona — and 1 out of 3 euros spent in Spain is spent on the Paseo de Gràcia according to Luis Sans, owner and chief executive officer of Santa Eulalia, a luxury multibrand store and a veteran of the shop-heavy retail artery since 1843. “It’s a retail powerhouse.”

“A huge number of upscale international labels want a retail presence on the Paseo de Gràcia because it’s a consolidated shopping street and tourists drive the growth. It’s the Fifth Avenue of Spain,” said local real estate agent Mónica Manguillot.

The best of the nine-block strip — with its signature Gaudi street tiles and Modernist architecture — is what she called “wow locales,” or corner space occupied by such stalwarts as Stella McCartney, which opened its first store in Spain last summer, and Louis Vuitton, which will relocate to a 12,900-square-foot unit in September, halfway down the street from its present location.

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