Jorge Altarriba is a realist and knows that in a world of increasing hypermarkets and shopping centres dominated by multi-national giants, the little shop must specialize or die.
The Altarriba family shop is really the group of shops on the same block; one specializing in mountaineering equipment, another in adventure sports, and the one that interested me, a shop dedicated to model making.
Perhaps my generation will be the last in which most children made model planes and other vehicles. With today’s obsession with video games children can now wipe out their cyber enemies in seconds, they don’t have to glue the bits and pieces together for hours first.
And yet there is still a fairly stable market for these products, most of which are imported from Northern Europe, and particularly Germany. In fact Jorge’s customers come from as far away as Murcia, Alicante and Teruel to buy material from his shop, and some even come here on holiday from other countries and take advantage of their stay to stock up on a scale model Triumph TR6 or terrifying knee-high version of Ermanarich the Goth.
In fact many of his customers live on the Costa Blanca, a place where Jorge and his family (it was his great grandfather who founded the business more than a hundred years ago) spend most weekends and holidays, owning as they do a house on the Montañar housing estate near Javea, and they will often be found down there in one of their favourite restaurants Los Remos.
The centrepiece of the shop used to be a large model of Nelson’s Victory, a model with a story which Jorge showed me in the form of a newspaper cutting. In May 2000, after 2,226 hours of work, Mario Cusidó, who at that time was 76 years old, finished the model which once stood proudly in its own glass case in the shop with its splendid sails and 50 cannon. (The kit at the time was available for a mere 540 euros if you have a few years to spare).
Many of the train models are made by the famous British firm Hornby and, pride of place is a steam train retailing at 750€. Hornby’s apparently bought out the Spanish model train company Electrotrain, although they maintained the brand name.
Trainspotting is it seems alive and well in Valencia and members of an organisation called “Amigos Del Ferrocarril de Valencia” are entitled to a 10% discount in the shop.
British model enthusiasts who visit the shop will have no trouble finding the Spanish words for ‘glue’ or ‘where do I stick this bit?’ as Jorge speaks excellent English and has the Cambridge University First Certificate diploma.
Jorge, an economist by profession, laments that children today prefer the easy option of screen-based toys to the patience and dedication needed for the kinds of toys he sells for young and older people, which require creativity and imagination.