Monday, April 23, 2007

Barcelona’s Retailing Icon

As a little girl, I remember hopping in the car with my Mom, grandmother and sister and driving to Garden City, N.Y., to visit Macy’s for the day. (This was when Macy’s and Stern’s anchored the town’s Roosevelt Field Mall. Today, Macy’s is joined by Nordstrom’s, Bloomingdale’s and J.C. Penney department stores, as well as 270 specialty stores, more than 20 fast-food eateries and restaurants, and a movie theatre. But I digress.)

A few times a year, we used to visit Macy’s to shop for Easter dresses, Christmas outfits, back-to-school clothes, shoes, housewares, even electronics. Then we would end our shopping excursion with a trip to the fourth-floor snack bar that only served fresh-squeezed juices and frozen yogurt (it was the newest rage back then).

As malls grew in size and added trendy specialty stores to draw in more shoppers, those daylong shopping excursions to Macy’s ended.

A recent visit to El Cortes Ingles in Barcelona, Spain, managed to stir up those old memories, of when shopping in a department store was truly something special. The location is the main branch of the oldest department store company in Spain. The store, which has a history that dates back to 1934, sits in the center of Placa Catalunya at the top of Las Ramblas—the central boulevard that cuts through the heart of Barcelona.

The eight-floor store features such standard department store offerings as menswear, women’s fashions, footwear, juniors and children’s clothing, and cosmetics and fragrances. It also has housewares and electronics departments.

But the store also managed to exceed all my expectations.

Besides a full-service supermarket complete with fresh meats, fish, baked goods and meal solutions, El Cortes Ingles also boasts a candy department, a tobacco merchant, a jeweler/watchmaker and a travel agency. A rooftop cafe nestled on the eighth floor overlooks the city and attracts shoppers and non-shoppers alike.

El Cortes Ingles operates in the heart of Barcelona’s shopping district that is also home to plenty of Spanish designers, as well as chic brands including Versace, Mango, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. While I love the glamorous, high-end designer stores, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia (and a sudden urge for frozen yogurt) as I visited El Cortes Ingles.

— Deena M. Amato-McCoy

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