Hailing from the US, Cassandra Gambill is an inquisitive (read: nosey) guiri who has been demystifying the English language in Madrid since 2010. While being addressed simply as “profe,” was startling at first, she has grown to enjoy it. Here Cassandra guides Guiri’s through a new store concept in Madrid….
“It’s a trueque, a trade. You bring in items, receive points for them, and then use those points to take things from the store. ” The newcomer continued to eye up the shop, wondering what to make of such an idea. She paused for a moment, choosing her words.
“Hmm. I knew that Malasaña was known for alternative shops, but this is a really different approach.” She never came in from the street.
The idea is catching on, albeit slowly; since I first visited Ábrete Sésamo in June, the space has filled up and out. Customers—for lack of a better term—trade in all manner of clothes, shoes, bags, movies, CDs, and household items. I’ve come across lamps, dangly earrings, books in English, French, Russian, and Spanish, and sets of teacups in this cavernous room that’s a cross between a Salvation Army and a consignment shop.
Even though it is taking time to catch on with the locals—the owners mentioned that September was a particularly slow month—“Open Sesame” is filling a gap in the Madrid market. How many times have you noticed a perfectly good dress dangling from the top of the dumpster, books thrown in the trash cans, or chairs sitting on the curb? Jose Manuel and Emanuela, the duo behind the tienda, aim to get others to breathe new life into old or unwanted items. They are promoting consumo responsable, or ethical consumerism, the idea of consuming less and being conscious of what impact our spending habits have on the world. Ideally, one should take away as much as one brings in—the concept will never work if customers remain on one side of the bringing-taking equation.
Indeed, it is possible to take out items without bringing in anything to trade. This, though, will cost you significantly more than if you had simply brought in a few of last year’s scarves. Here’s how it works: if you do not bring in any tradeables, you can buy 50 points for 10 Euros. If you do bring in items to trade, you will still have to pay a bit of money—this is how the store pays rent—but you will pay considerably less.
Each item is worth a certain number of points depending on what it is and what quality it is in. Books, for example, start at 5 points, while shoes are 35 and up. If the total number of points for items you bring in tallies less than 120 points, you will pay 8 Euros for the right to trade in the store. If the points total between 120 and 240, then you pay 10 Euros. 240 to 400 costs 15 Euros and 400 and up is 20. The best deal for those wanting to bring in multiple loads is to spring for a month-long pass; for 20 Euros, you can bring in as many picture frames, travel guides, and jackets as your heart desires.
A handwritten card as well as an electronic account keeps track of how many points you have to play with. No matter how much you pay for this initial start-up cost, your points never expire. That is, you never have to pay again and can come back months later if you suddenly realize you need to pick up baby clothes.
In addition to the give and take of the trueque system, Ábrete Sésamo also offers creative workshops. There are courses—given in Spanish—on crafting handmade soap and giving your furniture a facelift.
Ábrete Sésamo is located on Calle Noviciado 9, www.abretesesamotrueque.com. The store is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Cassandra’s Spanish travels and travails are documented at www.geecassandra.com.