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Friday, April 16, 2021

A 117-year-old hardware store in Tenerife

Ferretería Orotava opposite the Town Hall Plaza

Located opposite the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (Town Hall Square) in La Orotava, with its emblematic low doors, a company founded in 1904 remains active

Félix Reyes started the Ferretería Orotava (Orotava Hardware Store) at the beginning of the 20th century and his sons Manuel and Miguel, who took over in 1950 and ran it until they were 90 years old, continued the activity into the 21st century, when they transferred the business to Esteban García, their most faithful employee who had arrived at the age of 14 in 1979 and, at 55, continues behind a counter that has seen two pandemics - the Spanish flu of 1918 and coronavirus  - two world wars, monarchies, republics, a civil war, a dictatorship and the arrival of department stores and the internet go by. The only thing that has managed to question its continuity has been the decline of traditional and local commerce due to large shopping centres and purchases through large online platforms.

When the Plaza del Ayuntamiento de La Orotava housed the first large Corpus Christi carpet, in 1919, the Orotava Hardware Store had already dispensed nails and screws for 15 years. In each and every one of the photos of the emblematic tapestries made with Teide sand, this building is in the background. Esteban García, the son of humble people, took over the company in 2004, when he had already been employed there for 25 years, and now, 42 years after arriving, he takes care of it with his wife Milagros and with the occasional help of his daughters Marta and María. When asked why the hardware store has lasted so long, he replies that the key "is in the affection and in its family character."

It is a living business, but it has the air of a museum

Esteban keeps many of the materials and gadgets that were sold decades ago: an original counter, the weights to sell nails in bulk, the first calculator, a cash register with decades of use and 100 pesetas bills inside, a portable record player, brochures from the 50s, porcelain switches, lamps, Bakelite strips, a book of credit sales that this year turns a century, and even the original purchase contract of the house for 1,420 pesetas.

“They are like museum pieces, we value them a lot, but we need to sell to stay open. History does not feed us. If we sell, we can continue to make history. If not, it would have to be closed. Every day I wake up with nervousness but also with the hope of operation a century old business. It costs us a lot. Traditional commerce is heavily punished because now you can order anything over the internet, from a drill to a shirt or glasses. Then when it arrives it will be what it will be, so our difference is the personalized treatment with the client. Here you can see, touch and taste what you buy. We explain, we advise and, as we are a people, sometimes we even let things be taken on condition,” Esteban explains.

In the town this business is also known as the hardware store of Los Enanitos (The Dwarfs), a nickname that comes from the low height of its doors, which were normal sized but became small when the level of the street was built up, and also from Miguel and Manuel's, its previous owners, low stature. They did not like this nickname too much, Esteban recalls. When he took over the business, he had to turn "the murderous door" into a showcase.

Another of the hallmarks of this hardware store is the sale of Canarian handicrafts, "which is a way of helping a sector that is having a very bad time these days", and of products that are difficult to get in other places such as basins, large cauldrons, ceramic pieces. One of its windows is always reserved for crafts: "You will never see a drill there." His business is currently very varied, although the products with the most output are kitchen utensils, lighting, paintings, tools and "in general everything that can be found in a hardware store, except for construction material, due to lack of space”.

Esteban García Morales fears that the day will come to close and recognizes that he would not like to go down in history as the person who had to put an end to the Orotava Hardware Store. His hope goes through one of his daughters and even his grandson Nicolás, who is 6 years old, and already tells his grandfather that he will stay with the business.

The most appreciated nativity scene

For 16 years, the nativity scene that is made in this business has been one of the most appreciated on the route of nativities in La Orotava. Despite the pandemic and capacity control, 15,228 people enjoyed the display, with figures dressed as magos (in typical Canarian costume), in which the church of San Juan was recreated.

On October 10, 1904

La Ferretería Orotava keeps the purchase contract for the house where it is located, on Calle La Carrera, which was previously a grocery store owned by Antonio Herrero González, framed on a wall. It was acquired on October 10, 1904 by the founder of the hardware store, Félix Reyes Martín, at a price of 1,420 pesetas and 60 cents. On the day of the handover of the keys, he paid 1,220 pesetas and 60 cents in cash and promised to pay the remaining 200 pesetas in December 1904. Thus began the long history of this emblematic business. 

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