Salvador Minguella and Judith Sentís are the two visible faces of the most representative association of merchants in the city: Via T. President and facilitator speak with the Diari about the proposal promoted by the Tarragona Chamber of Commerce, which is committed to opening the shops on Sundays and summer holidays. Minguella and Sentís also assess the state of trade in our city.
Do Via T associates agree to open on Sundays and summer holidays?
Salvador Minguella: Mostly not.
Judith Sentís: We did a survey and the result was: 60% of merchants against it, 30% who would try it, and the rest didn’t know. We represent about 140 businessmen from the downtown area.
Who and why did the survey?
JS: We lead it as Via T after the Chamber’s proposal. They asked us for a quick response and we could not make the decision unilaterally.
SM: That we get the idea in May to implement it in June is very tight on time.
What are the reasons that associates argue to defend the option of not opening stores on Sundays?
SM: The majority thinks that this action should be accompanied by a good communication and promotion campaign. If we open, but nobody knows about it, it won’t do any good.
JS: We are asked to open our doors on Sundays when, currently, there are many stores that close even on Saturdays. Instead, we see long queues to get into the big shopping malls…
What should promoters do to end up convincing small businesses?
SM: It is difficult to convince an entrepreneur who is alone behind the counter. What should you do? Work seven days a week? Where is the family balance? And they are not few in these circumstances…
JS: It would be important that, in some way, they will guarantee us success.
Cruise ships are starting to arrive this week…
SM: They benefit, above all, the Part Alta and the restoration. The stores do not notice much. We tried it and it didn’t turn out the way we thought. And it is logical. Who walks and shops along the Rambla, on a Sunday at twelve noon, in full sun? No one. People prefer to go to areas closer to the beach, such as Altafulla or Cambrils. What they have to do is carry out activities so that the downtown area fills up on Saturdays. When Saturdays are full, we’ll open on Sundays.
The City Council says that it will only approve opening on Sundays if there is the consensus of the entire commercial fabric. Is there enough time to get it before the summer?
JS: I see it very complicated. People are very sensitive about the issue. It’s not that we shut down, it’s that we don’t want to commit to something crazy, without thinking about the consequences. The best thing would be to work on the proposal and, if appropriate, apply it next year.
When did Via T find out about the Cambra’s intentions?
SM: Very recently, really. We know that several meetings have been held, but we have not been present at almost any of them.
The Councilor for Commerce, Dídac Nadal, makes it a condition to open on Sundays that new staff be hired. Does the small business have the capacity to do it?
JS: In principle, this would not be a problem. There is the possibility of making specific contracts. It is very important that this measure does not mean an increase in hours for workers. If the thing ends up working and sales are registered, the business would not mind hiring more people.
Why are so many shops, and even restaurants, choosing to close their shutters on Saturdays?
JS: Very simple. Why doesn’t it pay for them to open. Many of the entrepreneurs are alone, and they must do everything themselves. From the commands, to take the social networks. They need to rest and, on Saturday, traditionally in Tarragona, it is weak.
What is the reason?
JS: Not only is it one, but the fact that the area around Plaça Corsini and the interior of the Mercat Central is practically closed has something to do with it. A kind of domino effect is produced and people no longer approach the downtown area.
Is it a good business time for the city?
SM: We could say yes. Proof of this is that some stores are opening and that there are fewer and fewer empty premises. What happens is that small businesses always suffer compared to the big chains and brands. Whether due to the ability to invest, to renovate stores or to use networks to attract new audiences. Precisely for this reason it is necessary for administrations to protect, more than necessary, small businesses that, after all, are the DNA of cities. If they end up disappearing, it will be a shame.
Do you have the new open stores accounted for?
JS: So far this year, we would be talking about between 20 and 25 new stores.
What is the reason for this boom in openings?
SM: Surely the drop in rental prices of the premises has something to do with it. I know that it is so. Now, what the owner wants is to have a payment guarantee. In addition, after a crisis like the one we have just experienced, the entrepreneurial spirit resurfaces in one way or another.
In recent months, from the Department of Commerce, special programs and activities have been carried out to boost the city’s commerce.
Has this effort been reflected in the number of sales?
JS: People are happy and when you organize initiatives like these, we Tarragona respond. Now, from Via T we are very interested in attracting a young audience, teenagers. We see that Tarragona is not attractive enough for them. You have to change strategy.
What else could the City Council do to give the sector a boost?
SM: This is what I wanted to talk about. There is a legend that parking in Tarragona is more expensive than in Reus. And it’s a lie. The problem is that the City Council has not explained it sufficiently, has not promoted it and, therefore, we have not just broken with the myth. And who are the affected? We the merchants.
Is the pedestrianization of Canyelles street and the future Illa Corsini, the necessary revulsive?
JS: Yes, as long as it is not filled with bars, as we have already seen in some points. We suffer with it.
Does the presence of so many bars harm trade?
JS: Yes. It could stop investments. The Corsini environment was intended as a commercial area. It has finally become a point where to have a drink. Shops close, bars open.
SM: It is essential that a strategic plan be carried out; a use plan that regulates these matters. One had already started. The problem is that every time the municipal government changes, we start from scratch. So we don’t move forward.
This weekend starts Tarraco Viva. Will there be new customers?
JS: Honestly, we don’t get any kind of information. We don’t bond because no one tells us anything. This is the problem of each council going their own way, without thinking together.
SM: The lack of communication between the departments of Turisme and Comerç, and also in other areas, is evident here. In the end, the ones who end up paying for this lack of coordination are us.
And finally, the arrival of Ten Brinke is a threat to the small businesses of the city?
JS: So many things have been said that we don’t really know how it will be either. What we are clear about is that it will not benefit us. What we don’t understand is why something like this is supported when the Fira de Reus isn’t working.