Thursday, 6 April 2023, 10:55
La Casilla, an iconic shop with a long trading history in Torremolinos, has closed after 59 years. Shutters that opened for the first time in 1964 have come down for good with the retirement of its owner.
Its tin soldiers and dolls houses have helped business flourish in central Calle San Miguel for over half a century.
Pepa Montes, owner, has retired at the age of 75 with the satisfaction of having done her best to keep going. With no family member to take over running the shop, she has had no choice but to shut up shop.
This businesswoman started trading at just 17 years of age in the Montes' small family home (hence the name La Casilla). Her father, Rafael Montes, a builder responsible for an asbestos mine in Mijas, had died a few years earlier, and Pepa had no choice but to go to work to help her family. She had a clear idea that selling was her thing, so she decided to open the shop that was to leave fond memories with the people of Torremolinos.
Pepa Montes started the business alongside her mother, Pepita Jiménez, and her sister, Ana Montes. Initially they sold goods for the local hospitality industry. She remembers the bars in the Pasaje Begoña being her main customers, mostly supplying them with highball glasses and beer mugs. "I had to buy 5,000 glasses at a time because American tourists would arrive en masse at the bars, raise their glasses for a toast and then smash them all," she recalled.
With the arrival of shopping centres in the surrounding area, La Casilla had to reinvent itself and offer other products with no local competition. Pepa specialised in giftware and became famous for her miniatures, dolls houses and tin soldiers. "People would tell me it was like El Corte Inglés but smaller because it had a little bit of everything."
La Casilla opened in 1964 and, up to the time it closed, it had been one of the oldest businesses remaining in the town centre street. Back then on Calle San Miguel there was no pharmacy, no tobacconist, not even the well-known shops of Góvez and Santa Gema (which began by selling perfumes).
In its early years the street was open to traffic and full of residential homes with shops in the minority. "At that time there was already a lot of tourism and almost all the neighbours rented out rooms as there were not enough hotel rooms," said Pepa.
Later came the pedestrianisation of the street, "a wonderful idea that made it possible to greatly improve the area," and the gradual increase in tourists, both domestic and international.
The street, she acknowledges, has undergone many changes over the years in response to the changing demands of tourists. As the then Spanish government relaxed some laws on behaviour in public, Spanish tourists came looking for more risqué swimwear. Then came the jewellery and watch shops run by mostly Indian traders and later on the fanatical collectors of Lladró figures, among others.
Conscious of the fact that no younger family member would be taking on the business, Pepa began looking for a new tenant back in 2019. She was in no rush and was prepared to wait until she found the ideal entrepreneur. As a faithful defender of traditional commerce, she was unwilling to let La Casilla become any old shop. She had hoped for someone new to maintain it as a gift shop with the same tiled frontage that has decorated the entrance to the premises since the early 70s.
Although she is sorry to retire, she believes that the time is right. "Many ask me if the closure is due to lack of sales but, if that were the case, I could continue working for another ten years," she said gratefully. "Others ask me where they are going to find the items they always bought from me," she added.
Despite her positive attitude, she admits that old-style, independent shops are not experiencing good times as many traders with a long history on the high street are now closing their doors. Just a few steps away, on the same Calle San Miguel, the GB Bravo shoe store has also just lowered the shutters for good.
Necesitas ser suscriptor para poder votar.