Nicole Brouwers with her partner Ted outside the charity shop in Nerja.
Nicole Brouwers with her partner Ted outside the charity shop in Nerja. / N. B.

A need for a change of wallpaper, as they say in Holland

  • Nerja

  • Nicole Brouwers has run the Pocapecunia charity shop in Nerja for a decade, but it isn’t the only shop she’s had

Nicole Brouwers arrived in Spain in 2005 as an experienced shop-owner and upon settling here permanently in 2010, decided to put her retail knowledge to a charitable purpose.

Originally from Holland, Nicole came to Spain initially with the intention of spending winters here, but when she met her partner Ted in 2010, she decided to make Nerja her permanent home. By then she was an active member of the Nerja Players and that year she turned her dream of opening a charity shop in the town into reality.

"For years I was thinking already of opening a charity shop. Somebody [from] the Nerja Players [put] me in contact with John Margetson who had founded the Love A Child Foundation".

Nicole, who will be celebrating her seventy-third birthday in August, initially rented the premises in Calle Bellavista where the shop remains today. She bought it last year and explains that Ted has reformed it. The shop reopened earlier this month after the lockdown.

Although the Love A Child charity no longer exists, Nicole explains that she now donates the money she raises to other NGOs, including Sreepur Village in Bangladesh. "I heard about it from a friend. Women who are badly treated by their husbands can go there with their children and are taught to make birthday cards. After three years, they get the money they earned in those three years and with that they can start their own business."

She says that she also supports MAMAS; a Dutch foundation set up by Nelson Mandela which helps women in South Africa, and Dierenlot; a Dutch animal charity.

"Doing something for charity is really something I like, I've had a very good and easy life and money does not interest me one bit. I don't like shopping, I don't like the things most people like."

Life in France

Nicole explains that having grown up in a "very French orientated family" she decided to follow her French instincts and in 1984 put the dog and her luggage in her 2-CV her dog and drove to the south of France. She adds that the two cats joined her two weeks later by plane.

Life in France started off in St. Paul de Vence, on the French Riviera, where she rented a house for six months from a Dutch TV producer.

"I felt immediately, completely at home and for six months I was exploring the coast, went to Monaco and Italy. You could go skiing in the morning and to the beach in the afternoon."

After six months of travelling, Nicole decided she needed to find a job. "I read in the paper that somebody was looking for a sales lady [in a shop] in a touristy place for three months to replace a pregnant lady. I got the job and stayed there until 1999. The pregnant lady never came back, I bought the shop after a few years [and] bought another one three years later."

Nicole admits that she loved her life there. "I was very active in the Dutch community, head-editor of the Holland-Côte d'Azur Magazine, wrote the cultural page, edited a book [and] worked every year in Cannes for the Film Festival."

She says she did all of that while managing the shop. "I always had fantastic sales ladies to whom I could leave the shop. No closing time there, your shop could be open as long as you wanted," she recalls.

She would travel to different countries in Asia every winter, where she bought items to sell in her boutique.

In 1999 Nicole says that she felt it was time for a change, or "for some other wallpaper, like we say in Holland," she quips.

Nicole returned to Holland where she taught French at a secondary school in the northern city of Groningen.

"European, not really Dutch"

She stayed there until 2005, at which point she decided that she was "very European, but not really Dutch anymore, nor French", and spent a few months living on an island off Croatia before coming to Spain.

"Fed up" with the Dutch climate and having studied Spanish Literature and taught Spanish at a local community college, Nicole decided she wanted to spend a winter in the sun in the south of Spain. "I looked at an atlas and chose Nerja," she explains.

When asked whether she thinks she'll stay put in Spain now she concludes, "I'm planning to stay but you never know with me."