Cerrado por Vacaciones: An August Icon

A “closed for vacation” sign hangs near the Torres Blancas

Summer in Madrid is the perfect time to open a bank account and stock up on stamps–the city tilts closer to a ghost town than a European capital. Perhaps because I’m living in a neighborhood outside of the center now, this year I have been struck by the sheer number of boarded-up businesses. Mom and pop shops hang a homemade sign in the window bluntly stating that they are–if you haven’t yet deduced by the heavy padlock and shadowy interior–cerrado por vacaciones.

Coming from a culture where vacation time is paltry, European holidays are the stuff of dreams. On average, Spaniards have 34 days off a year. (That’s 12 holidays + a minimum 22 days for vacation!) Suffice it to say, shuttered-up establishments are somewhat baffling to this americana. The corner kiosk, an iconic meeting place, closed? And for more than a month?! Another example: anxious to see photos from my friend’s June wedding in Gijón, I asked her when the couple would receive the photos. It has been two months, after all! Her response?  “I don’t know–but it’s August and we live in Spain!”

I was shocked the first time I realized that pharmacies could (and do) close in August. Likewise, last summer I made an online reservation at a nice restaurant for my birthday–only to arrive and find a cheery “We’re on vacation!” sign. Always call before you make the trek to a specific locale; even if they’re open, many businesses offer fewer hours or a different schedule.

Of course, it makes sense: the employees behind these storefronts crave summer vacations like the rest of us. Perhaps it isn’t profitable to pay someone to take care of your tienda while you get your tan on in Valencia. Or maybe, because of the neighborhood exodus, there aren’t enough customers to keep rolling out the welcome mat. (However, if you make your living selling ice cream, WHY oh WHY you would choose to go on vacation in August is beyond my comprehension.)

The “cerrado de vaciones” image is one to associate with August. To give you an idea of what they look like, here are some shots I snapped on my weekly walk. Some are hand-written, others typed. A few are taped inside the window, while most brave the elements outside. A month-long vacation or free afternoons in August? Let’s hear it for that Spanish work-life balance!

cerrado por vacaciones

cerrado por vacaciones

cerrado por vacaciones

 This kiosk–near the heavily trafficked Avenida de America, no less!–includes directions to the nearest open kiosk

cerrado por vacaciones

cerrado por vacaciones

cerrado por vacaciones

This store has summer hours: open in the morning, closed in the afternoon

cerrado por vacaciones

cerrado por vacaciones

Are the stores closed where you live? Which sign caught your fancy?

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  1. Ha! These are great! Props to you for going around town and capturing them all. That must be super frustrating to have a pharmacy (!!!) close during the summer. Yikes!

    • Cassandra

      Thanks! Luckily I haven’t need the pharmacy–knock on wood–and they were kind enough to include the address of their nearest sister spots…

  2. Ugh, I was so excited to spend my birthday in Spain…UNTIL IT WAS ON A NATIONAL HOLIDAY IN THE SUMMER. I do understand, but I gave it my best not impressed face. Looks like I’ll be arriving back to Spain when things begin to open up, hooray!

  3. it baffles me! smaller stores who don’t have someone to manage the store while they’re taking their holiday is one thing, but allllll kinds of stores…they really can’t get someone to take their holiday in july so they can make a living off of the people traveling europe on their own vacay? kids.

    • Cassandra

      Was it the same way in Brussels, Annie? In residential areas it’s more understandable (no tourists, no clients, no prob), but in the center of Madrid there are still TONS of places that close for at a time when there is potential business!

  4. These signs say so much about Spain, and I love it!

  5. Sweden is exactly the same – it’s exasperating and impressive at the same time! The first summer I lived here it drove me nuts – what would possess a restaurant owner to shut up and head out to the archipelago to sauna and swim naked in the Baltic IN THE MIDDLE OF THE TOURIST SEASON?! But now I’m more used to it, and quite like their attitude to life – actually a business doesn’t collapse if it isn’t open 24/7/364 and that’s pretty good!

    • Cassandra

      Ohh, it’s interesting to find out that this is also the case in other places such as Sweden. And you’re quite right, the business owners seem to know what they’re doing…!

  6. Hahaha it’s the SAME in France. My team works with several French companies and this summer I’ve had a pretty leisurely workload because they’ve been all telling us nobody would be in the office in August, therefore there would be nobody to answer our e-mails. I’m not complaining, it means it’s not as crazy at work and I get to focus on other things. My coworkers are a bit baffled by this attitude since they keep asking my team, “But who is running things while all these people are away?” Er… nobody! Everybody else is on vacation so nobody is worrying about it. August is an entire month-long national holiday in France.

    • Cassandra

      Ha, this European month-long vacation is so foreign to Americans (and many other nationalities). I didn’t realize that August was a national holiday in France–too bad that isn’t an option in the states!

  7. It’s not an excuse, but I think in most European cities many shops are closed in August. Spain is often associated with napping etc …..

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