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WHAT COMMERCE MEANS TO US?

Speech from Amadeu Barbany Grau, 4th generation of shop-keepers and co-founder of IAIOS during the La Porxada Awards ceremony at Granollers in 2019.


As a trader I have to tell you that I often find myself lost. I ask myself: What am I, what do I do? What is my name?


What is our trade called? Traditional trade? Small trade? Neighbourhood trade? Endangered trade?


One day I was so lost that I picked up a dictionary. You know that a dictionary is a thick book that we have on a shelf full of dust and when you open it you find the meaning of words. The first one I looked up was *botiguer and the definition went like this: "Person who has a tent on". I thought we are not doing well ... (* the word "botiguer" in Catalan, could be translated into Spanish as "tendero" or "comerciante").


I read on and the second definition said that the botiguer was a bird. I thought; looks good! It seems that the "botiguer" is a small bird that normally hangs around the banks of rivers and is always very attentive. It perches on the top of a branch in a privileged position ... And from time to time the bird dives like an arrow into the river and catches a customer, I mean a small fish.


When I did some more research I discovered that people used to call this bird "botiguer" because it is one of the most colourful birds in Catalonia. It is a bird with a big head and a small tail, and on the back it looks like it is wearing a blue dressing gown. It seems that traders used to wear a blue smock, which is how I discovered the origin of the name.


As I was not very satisfied I thought to look up the meaning of the word "trade" and this is the following: buying and selling of natural, industrial products and/or services. Personally I did not like this definition very much, I found it very brief and very cold.


But I finally found a last one that I liked the most! it went like this: Trade: Exchange of ideas and feelings between people.


I immediately thought: This is our definition! This is what we shopkeepers have been doing for centuries and centuries.


I would like to tell you a little anecdote if I may. Shortly before the neolithic age, there were 3 very clever sisters. One day, the eldest sister, whose name was "Venga, va" decided to plant a seed and made a good harvest. This harvest created a surplus, and thus, without knowing it, set in motion the neolithic revolution. The second sister, whose name was "I'm coming" took the surplus produce and took it to a crossroads to sell and unknowingly started the trade revolution. When the little sister arrived, whose name was "I'm staying here", the origin of the cities took place.


As you all know, most cities in Catalonia and the rest of Europe were created and grew around a crossroads. Trade was, from the very beginning, the backbone of our cities.


At these crossroads, our definition of commerce was put into practice on a daily basis. Multiple exchanges of ideas and feelings. Time went by and this exchange continued to be practiced by the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Romans, also by the barbarians and the Arabs ... all these people were the traders of the time and they carried much more than products. They told stories, discussed progress, technical and scientific discoveries and spoke different languages. This is why today we know that trade made possible great advances such as the alphabet, navigation or currency.


Therefore, I would like to point out that trade has not only been an economic fact. It has been a space of exchange of ideas and feelings, of relationship, of sharing and that together we have made each of our cities. So, what happens when a business closes? Well, a whole red of relationships woven over the years disappears. It is a great pity...


Lately, I walk around different cities and I see the commercial past and the life they had, and that now they are practically dormitory cities. This is not the case of Granollers, but in Granollers we have another problem, like many other cities, which is the "cloning" of commerce. One loses the illusion of going from one city to another because in practically all of them there are practically the same shops. And this cloning is spreading to foreign cities like Paris or London and all over Europe. And who is to blame for all this? The big companies? The city councils? The administration? The politicians?...? I would say that we are largely to blame.


We have the world we consume. Often the shopkeepers themselves do not go to buy from small shops. It turns out that we all go to 20 companies that we all know and that decide for us the world we "don't want".


Some time ago I was giving a talk at the University of Girona and in front of about 60 students I asked them a question: tell me a store here in Girona where they sell furniture, and nobody could tell me any. So I asked them, where do I go to buy furniture? You know what they told me? Then I asked them, tell me a sports store here in Girona, but none of the 60 students answered. I don't need to tell you where they bought sports products.


We have the world we deserve and we have the world we consume. And only individual exercise will bring about this change, which, although small, will end up being the one that will change things. If we don't do it, it is because we don't want to. As Carles Capdevila, who unfortunately is no longer with us, used to say: it's a curious thing about this country that when a neighbourhood shop closes, everyone complains and there was never anyone to go shopping.


So what to do if you are earning less and less? Well, buy less, ladies and gentlemen! This is what a 4th generation shopkeeper tells you: when people were buying less, we small traders sold much more. And not only that, we sold with a conscience, we knew our customers and we were a fundamental part of the city.


For all these reasons, together we must be able to create a creative trade, with its own style, within a sensitive and sustainable environment rooted in our culture, where people interact and consume consciously. Also an innovative commerce committed to the society of the moment and excited about its present. We must recover the human dimension of the city, of the individual, of the community, of coexistence, of participation. Without participation there is no democracy. Participate, talk, look, look, listen, listen, create, decide for ourselves where we buy, what for, how, when and how much. According to Vicenç Partal, finding the balance between the global and the local, knowing how to be "glocal", is our great challenge for the future.


Finally, a quote from Ken Blanchard and Michael O'Connor: "True success comes not from proclaiming our values, but from consistently putting them into practice every day".


Well, tomorrow when I raise the shutters again, I will think that I am the heir to one of the oldest trades in the world, but above all, and I say this from the bottom of my heart, the most beautiful in the world, because every time the door opens, a person (not a consumer) enters with whom we can exchange ideas and feelings. And at that very moment this miracle takes place. And this is also life.


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