Have you ever been in one of those places which are so special that you can’t help but get a tingly feeling inside your stomach when you go in?
Last Saturday we went to one of those places. L’Arca de l’Àvia (in English, “Grandma’s Armoire”), which is now simply called l’Arca, is a vintage shop in the center of Barcelona that has been open for more than forty years. And because of a happy coincidence, the owner managed to participate in projects which have earned the shop a name and reputation all around Barcelona.
And that reputation was why we were hesitating a little bit before we went inside the store. Until now, not one of us had ever ventured to try and chat with anyone with such a name in the industry. And so we nervously hung out outside the shop for a while, fearing that the worker inside would never want to participate in a student blog.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
When we finally managed to step inside, it took us a good ten seconds to stop holding in our breaths. It was like we had just gone back in time and teleported into the twenties. We perused around for a while, admiring every object while trying to find the perfect moment to approach the woman sitting behind the counter.
It was just after 4 O’clock and the store was having one of those after-lunch lulls. So as soon as we saw that the worker wasn’t assisting anybody, we decided to step up and talk to her.
And she may have been one of the sweetest people who we’ve ever met. Not only did she tell us everything we wanted to know, but she was also interested in our blog and wanted to know a bit more about our studies. We actually spent quite some time happily chatting to her, and were able to take some photos whenever she became busy assisting a client.
And she told us some the myriad of stories that this shop has accumulated over the last forty years. How Carmina Viñas, the founder and owner of the vintage shop, decided to open the store after living in Paris for some time. She was inspired by the bohemian, artsy feel of the city; and because her family had owned antique shops for several generations and she knew the business, she knew that she could build something truly special.
She rented a small space in the center of Barcelona and searched for the finest pieces of antique jewelry and dresses to sell in her shop. And though she was really good at her job, it was because of a happy coincidence that the store became known amongst the people in Barcelona.
And then we experienced one of those moments that everyone lives at some point in their lives when it all just works out to have great timing: a group of English tourists came into the shop. And a man in the group, who seemed to know the store’s employee, asked if he could tell them “the story”.
“What story?” we were wondering to ourselves, excited to know what would happen next. And then he began explaining how, not many moons after the store was opened, a foreign man had come into the shop and bought a set of gorgeous women dresses. Carmina sold him the clothes and moved on to her next client, thinking that she had made business just like on any other day. It wasn’t until much later, when she received tickets to the premiere of the movie Titanic (1997) that she realized to whom she had sold her dresses. And as amazing as it sounds, Kate Winslet had ended up wearing some of those dresses in the movie.
After this accidental success, it didn’t take very long for the store to gain a name around the city. And because there was more business, the shop’s horizons started expanding as well. Now they sell mainly clothing items from the twenties and thirties – especially wedding dresses –, and they also make their own dresses, tablecloths and curtains out of vintage fabrics. Some of their items are used as props for theatre and television, and as the years keep passing the store continues to gain more recognition.
And we really can see why. As hospitality students, one day we would love to be able to create a place with so much history and personality to it. Maybe in a while, when we have a business ourselves, another group of hospitality students will come into our places and get butterflies inside their stomach before coming in, just like we did.