Tuesday, February 23, 2010


A mainstay in the Spanish shopping culture is the “Chino,” as the shop owned and run by Chinese people is so simplistically called. Years ago these shops were stocked almost exclusively with foodstuffs. In Spain back 10 (or even 5-6) years or so ago there were just two kinds of stores that could open on Sundays – those that sold food and those that sold newspapers. It’s not surprising, then, that the original “Chino” was a 7-11 type joint. It’s just the sort of business that fits perfectly with the nose-to-the-grindstone mentality exhibited by immigrants the world over – be they Indians at the Kwik-E-Mart, Pakistanis at the Corner store, or Chinese at the “Chinos.”

In true entrepreneurial fashion, many shop owners decided to monopolize on their being the only place open on the day of rest to also stock such emergency items as toilet plungers, tin foil and greeting cards. No one can say for sure where the leap occurred but at some point a new kind of Chino started to pop up. And this time they sold all of the random junk – knock-off colognes, shirts, shoes, underwear, Tupperware, fake flowers, shower curtains, light bulbs (you get the drift) - and no food. And the word “Chino” as a store designation came to be synonymous with a dollar store – alternatively, and still to this day, called Las 100 Pesetas or Los 20 Duros (twenty 5-cent peseta coins).

But, like all successful industries, the Chinos weren’t done there. After yet another facelift, the clothing Chino has emerged. This time sporting names such as, Sassy, Pretty Lady, and, yes, it’s true, Crassy, the Chino of today courts women of all ages with their hip clothing and shoes at rock bottom prices.

Now just because a new kind of Chino has appeared doesn’t mean that the others have faded away. After all, each kind of store fills a different role.

The food store attracts the 7-11 clientele; open late – think 1am – and selling cold beer and sodas, individual bags of chips and bulk candy.

The “dollar store” offers a bit of everything at a reasonable price. The only true competition they have could perhaps be the megastores like Carrefour and Alcampo, neither of which are easily found in the city center, or Corte Ingles, which most certainly sells everything but at a much higher price.

The clothing shops rarely close during the siesta and, although the quality is cheap, the offerings are plenty and the prices are low (I got boots not unlike these for 12€ on Saturday).

All of that means that, generally speaking, the Chinos are doing pretty well in spite of the general state of affairs. And it’s not at all uncommon for a neighborhood shop to close under the weight of the recession and for a Chino to open in its place. In the 3 blocks between my street and the next biggest street there are 8 Chinos – 2 food stores, 2 dollar stores, and 4 clothing shops.

And so I finally get to my point. Yesterday I saw a sign in the window of one of those 8 shops.
“Liquidación por cierre.”

The Chino was having a going-out-of-business, everything-must-go sale. This reminds of the Imponderables book I had when I was younger.

When a Chino closes, what opens in its place?


Katie said...

great post! i think often about the business savvy of the chinese and, it's true, when a shop closes, a "chino" nearly always takes its place. my guess is another chino will take over. keep us updated.

JustMe said...

Well, I am always delighted in Madrid to find any store open during siesta :)