John Gow says that Alhaurín el Grande has turned out to be a great place to live. :: R.L.
Newsagents all over the region have played a vital role in the history of SUR in English. We spoke to one of them
John and Debbie Gow have been the owners of the newsagent shop ‘Papelería Cristina’ in the centre of Alhaurín el Grande for the past six years. Over that time the pair have got to know many of their regular customers but among those who come each Friday and Saturday to collect their copy of SUR in English, John says there have been some surprising changes in the last year.
“We have an increasing number of Spanish people coming into the shop each week to collect the paper. They like to read the paper as they say it helps them to improve their English. We even have local police officers who come in each week to pick up a copy,” says John, who admits that Friday is the shop’s busiest day of the week as people nip in for their SUR in English.
When the couple first came to Spain from Liverpool they knew they were looking to run their own business but they didn’t know exactly what kind of business until they saw Cristina’s.
“We looked at a sweet shop, an English tea room, another card shop and even a mobile bouncy castle hire business but it was only when we saw this shop in Alhaurín that we realised it was the right place for us. We had some family here in Spain which was really helpful and although we both gave up good jobs in the UK to come here, our families were very supportive. Alhaurín el Grande has turned out to be a great location for us. It is a pleasant place to live and work and feels very safe.”
Over the years John says that the shop’s client base has changed, with more Spanish customers coming to buy greetings cards and helium balloons than when he and Debbie first took over the business.
“We thought Alhaurín was a very Spanish town but we soon discovered there is a very vibrant English community here. Over the years our customers have changed though and we are now getting more Spanish customers than ever. Living in the town helps I think, as our neighbours see us walking to work each day and know who we are. We have Spanish friends and business suppliers too. These days the majority of our English-speaking customers tend to be retired but the Spanish that come to the shop are all ages.”
John says that in March and April the shop does a roaring trade in helium balloons when lots of Spanish families celebrate First Communion parties, whereas Valentine’s Day, Mothering Sunday, Father’s Day and Christmas are the busiest times for British customers with cards and presents. “Lots of our customers come in for the traditional English sweets too. They are difficult to source sometimes but very popular.”
The thing that causes the biggest headache for the newsagents is when their customers try to use the postal service at the shop for sending tobacco to the UK. “Sometimes people cannot understand why they are not allowed to send their allowance of cigarettes through the post but the truth is that the UK customs will simply confiscate any parcels containing alcohol or tobacco.”
When they come into the newsagents to send mail or to buy sweets and newspapers, John says that many of his customers also like to stop and chat.
“The shop was a bar many years ago and we still use the old wooden serving bar as the shop counter. People do seem to enjoy leaning up against the counter and having a chat. It feels like a bar in here still at times with people standing around chatting.”
These days the old kitchen at the rear of the shop has been converted into an internet café. “Most people have internet at home but quite a few come in here to print out their boarding passes for the flights backwards and forwards to the UK,” says John.
Although neither Debbie nor John can think of any requests for particularly strange products at the shop, they did once say no to having a box of puppies for rehoming left at the shop.
“We do put up posters for people looking to rehome animals but we couldn’t just take a box of puppies and leave them by the door for people to take with them as they wanted!”