Por Carlos Ruano
MADRID (Reuters) - A corner shop in Spain has finally found the customers it has been looking for since the start of the country's economic crisis...at its closing down sale.
Like an estimated 4,800 shops so far this year, "Te y Limon" (Tea and Lemon) has gone under as sales have plummeted in a country where five million people are out of work and governments have struggled for two years to convince the markets that Spain's finances are in order.
Owner Cesar Calle, 53, hung a banner outside the general store which reads: "Thanks to all those who have helped us close down" and then lists a number of contributors including Greece, the banks and a government policy that he says has abandoned small businesses and the self-employed.
"If I knew that things would go on like this," said Calle in reference to the shoppers snapping up the fire sale bargains at his store. "I could stay open with almost half the response."
Calle runs the shop with his wife and two children wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan: "Te y Limon, closing due to despair".
Along with media coverage, his campaign has drawn buyers from Madrid's working-class Posperidad district where "To Let" signs now line shopping streets which were bustling until a decade-long construction boom went bust in Spain four years ago.
"It's a pity, but obviously we are taking advantage," a shopper who gave her name as Pilar said about the rock-bottom prices at Calle's shop.
After the construction sector, the Spanish crisis hit the retail sector hardest. Official data show retail sales slumped for the 20th month in a row in February, since the former Socialist government raised value-added tax in a bid to balance its books.
In addition to plummeting consumption, shops have been hit by a reduction in bank lending.
"There's just no credit to be found. I've tried everywhere," said Calle, who like many small businessmen has mortgaged all of his assets. "The banks own me."
The government does offer credit lines for small businesses, but Calle said their impact was limited.
"If you're lucky and you get one, it's at sky-high rates of at least 10 percent," he said.
Miriam Reyes, who has lived locally for 30 years, said many businesses have been closing their doors after a lifetime.
"This shop (Te y Limon) was a landmark in the district. Its closure shows the impact of the crisis, and it is not the only shop to close. Many nearby shops have been forced to the wall, traditional shops are vanishing," she said.
Reporting by Carlos Ruano; Writing by Martin Roberts, editing by Paul Casciato