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Waiters fear unemployment at Madrid's iconic Cafe Gijon

posted 19 Mar 2012, 05:58 by Mpelembe   [ updated 19 Mar 2012, 05:58 ]

Staff at Madrid's historic Cafe Gijon face uncertainty as the Spanish capital's City Hall puts the establishment's money-making terrace up for bids.

Known as the home of Spain's intellectuals and artists since it was established in 1888, the future of Madrid's iconic Cafe Gijon is uncertain and staff fear they may lose their jobs.
The lease of the cafe's terrace on Paseo de Recoletos has expired and, Madrid City Hall, the owners of the outdoors space, have put it on offer to the highest bidder.

Staff at the Gijon fear that without the terrace, the establishment's main income generator, the entire cafe will have to close down, taking with it the livelihoods of 44 workers.

"The real problem that has arisen from this, is that, if the management loses the terrace which generates money to maintain staff and the cafe, because most earnings come from outside, rather than inside, management say, and I fear, they will feel forced to sell," José Bárcena, a waiter at Café Gijon for 38 years who is also in charge of public relations, says.

Bárcena isn't only concerned about the future of his colleagues, he is also worried that, if the Cafe Gijon closes all together, 124 years of history will go with it.

"It would be such a shame, it would be, as I said, like losing places like El Rastro (antique market), the Prado Museum or any place that makes up the fabric of Madrid," the waiter says.

Cafe Gijon's regulars have included Spain's literary giants such as writer Federico García Lorca, Nobel Laureate Camilo José Cela and Pío Baroja of the Generation of ´98. Film industry luminaries including Ava Gardner, Truman Capote and Orson Welles have also graced the tables at 21, Paseo de Recoletos and Spain's traditional 'tertulias,' or gatherings involving lively debate, are still held today at the Gijon.

A spokesman at Madrid City Hall told Reuters the authorities are following the rules, opening up a bidding process every ten years, as is usual, for the terrace and its adjoining kiosk.

Spain has the highest unemployment rate in the euro zone. About 22 percent of the population are registered jobless.

With scarce opportunities in the market, the thought of joining the unemployment lines concerns the waiters at Cafe Gijon.

"I am worried, without doubt. I was jobless before and now that I have work and am happy, we have this problem and we don't know if it will be resolved. I can end up unemployed again, that's a problem," waiter Luis Miguel Martín, 46, says.

Ninety-five year old artist and writer Antonio Granados Valdez started coming to the Cafe Gijon when he was a student. He still visits the cafe every day and sits at the same table. The thought of losing such an institution appalls him.

"For someone who has nothing to do with culture or art to come along and decide based only on profits - because they will make 'X' amount from the terrace - is an outrageous act , it's an attack against Cafe Gijón," he says.

Madrid City Hall has not said when it will announce whether Cafe Gijon, which has put in a bid to keep the terrace, gets to keep it or not.

In the meantime waiters continue to pour hundreds of coffee cups a day as artists and writers engage in lively debate and tourists visit one of Madrid's famous establishments.