After 15 years serving the local community, one of the largest British companies operating in Spain, Overseas Imports S.L., has made the decision to close their Torrevieja store.
Overseas Supermarkets, commonly referred to as “Iceland” on account of the way the store was originally branded, will close for good on 15 April at 6:00 p.m. The company is keen to point out that they still have other stores in the surrounding area, namely those branded as Overseas in San Fulgencio (La Marina) and Orihuela Costa (Cabo Roig), as well as the shop operating under The Food Co name, commonly known as “Tesco”, locally.
We believe that only the Torrevieja store is set to close, as the company points out in response to a question on their Facebook page, they have “no plans to close any of our other stores”.
The Leader contacted Overseas for an official statement, and to ask what is happening to the staff at the Torrevieja store, but the company failed to respond. Therefore, The Leader spoke to staff at the store on Friday, who wish to remain anonymous for perhaps obvious reasons.
Although the mood was largely upbeat, the staff members we spoke to blame the management for their lack of foresight, as they are of the belief that the decline in trade in the Torrevieja store is down to the opening of those shops in the surrounding areas, and whereas the residents of other municipalities used to flock to Torrevieja in the past, once they had a closer store, the fall in footfall began, with the Torrevieja store left to serve a declining population.
The staff generally believe that the management are not actually bothered about the closure of Torrevieja, because they are still getting the revenue from those other stores.
Generally speaking, the staff are being relocated to other stores, they explained, although some are embarking on new work projects, the staff are all aware of their immediate futures, and although not happy, are unable to change the decision to have no choice but to accept it.
Overseas Imports started trading in the late 90s when Bryn Robertson (Chairman) started importing goods into Tenerife and selling the goods on to bars and restaurants on the island.
In July 2008, they opened what was their largest shop to date, with nearly 100 freezers, in Torrevieja. In recent months, the company reduced the physical size of the store by removing a number of aisles.
For Torrevieja to lose such a landmark store is another blow for the town that has shown a considerable decline in the British population for some time.
In 2008, according to the figures from the National Statistics Institute, when the store opened in Torrevieja, there were officially 12,550 residents in Torrevieja originally from the United Kingdom. Today, there are around 4,500, and some consider that figure to be inflated as it includes those who have left but not removed themselves from the padrón.
In contrast, of the 75,000 or so Brits living in the Alicante province, Orihuela, which has a similar overall population to that of Torrevieja now has around 10,000 residents from the UK, more than double that of Torrevieja, but a decline from the 16,327 recorded on 1 January 2008. In the smaller neighbouring municipalities where Overseas continues to operate, Rojales has around 5,000 Brits now, down from 8,070 in 2008, and San Fulgencio has some 3,000, down from 5,882.
Brexit, both directly and indirectly, may have had an effect on the population decline, but the drop in Torrevieja was significant even before the vote, and in Torrevieja, little is seemingly being done to help or even encourage foreign investment and residents from the United Kingdom, which, although we can include Brexit as a factor, has been declining since before that monumental decision.
Eduardo Dolón, who has been in local politics since 1999, has been Mayor since 2011, apart from a 4-year period from 2015 when the Partido Popular was ousted by the opposition, and he has overseen this decline for his entire tenure.
For the past few years, we have seen an obsession in investing millions in pop concerts and parties in Torrevieja, but nothing in terms of long-term foreign investment, and certainly nothing to encourage or help the Brits, something which his predecessor, Pedro Hernandez Mateo, did do, although his time as Mayor was sullied by his criminal conviction for illegal practices whilst in office.
In response to the situation, Gitte Lund Thomson, the Councillor for International Residents in Torrevieja, pointed out that, “In Torrevieja we have many businesses opening. In Cortes Valencianas they are opening yet another supermarket. And then a KFC and a Burger King”.
“I think that the British population in Torrevieja tend to buy their groceries in general supermarkets”.
“Around year 2000 there were a real boom in the British market for people buying property here and retiring. This population is aging and some returning to UK and some pass away. The British that have grown up in Torrevieja are integrated and might identify themselves more with the Spanish”.
“I think that at one point they had good offers in Iceland. They had competitive prices, so you could do a main shopping in there”.
“Now I think the Brits will only go occasionally there for something special like easter egg etc. Also, the general supermarkets have a selection of foreign goods. For example, you can buy baked beans in any supermarket”.
“In Torrevieja the British population is still important, but Torrevieja is very multi-cultural and here you will not find the same concentration of Brits as in Quesada, La Marina, Orihuela Costa”.
“The area where we have the most Brits is in San Luis, La Siesta, El Chaparral. And for people to go shopping they might as well go towards Quesada as towards Torrevieja”.
“From the town hall we promote many types of events. And hopefully there will be something of interest for all nationalities. This summer we have Reaggaeton Beach Festival and Brilla Torrevieja with Black Eyed Peas”.
Pablo Samper, mayoral candidate for Sueña Torrevieja, who hopes to oust Dolón in the May elections, puts the blame firmly at the door of the current government team, “I was born in Torrevieja in 1984, I have been seeing how my city has grown with the arrival of citizens from all over the world, especially from the United Kingdom”.
“Economic reasons or Brexit are no excuse for the Torrevieja government not having dedicated more efforts to integrate and ensure that the great British colony remains in our city, and does not abandon it, losing more than 6,000 inhabitants in recent years”.
“The closure of this supermarket is the culmination of a failure as a city, of a government that does not look to defend plurality, something that deeply saddens me and that I personally will try to change if I have the opportunity”.