Spain’s Top Retailer Offers Deals to Americans

<i> Merin is a New York City free-lance writer</i> .

Spain’s largest department store chain, El Corte Ingles, known throughout Europe for quality merchandise and exceptional service, is trying to attract the American shopper.

The chain began as a small shop in the 1930s and expanded rapidly during the 1940s. Today El Corte Ingles has four outlets in Madrid and 14 more in 11 other Spanish cities. It sells about 500,000 items.

Although all stores sell the same stock, the largest is El Corte Ingles Castellana in Madrid. It occupies three huge buildings connected by a covered plaza. El Corte Ingles Castellana seems like a small city and has enough merchandise to supply one.

The main building has fashion and accessories for the family (with separate floors for women, men, young adults and children), plus perfume, leather goods, jewelry, books, records, sports and outdoors equipment and several restaurants.


Good buys in this building include Majorca pearls (a 100-centimeter necklace with four strands of Majorca pearls and an intricate pearl and zirconium clasp for about $473, about 20% less than in the United States), gold jewelry (an intricately woven two-tone, 18-karat, collar necklace weighing 103 grams costs about $5,900; the matching bracelet weighing 45 grams costs about $2,755). Pure wool paisley shawls are about $48, wool-lined leather gloves and handbags $30.

Also, cassettes of Spanish rock music ($8 and up), men’s and women’s trendy shoes ($30 and up) and designer shoes (Balmain, Rech and others, $100 and up), men’s made-to-order suits (finished in two days, if necessary, about $365 and up). Children’s clothing and shoes ($20 and up), Fanrosa dolls with expressive faces (a grandfather doll in an armchair costs about $66), and French designer women’s clothes (especially items made in Spain; they’re cheaper here than in Paris).

From Rugs to Food

The home center-supermarket building sells rugs, bed-and-bath accessories, porcelain and silverware, gifts, electronics, kitchen and auto accessories and foodstuffs.


Good buys include Lladro figurines (a drummer boy costs $137, about 40% less than in the United States), Spanish wine ($1.50 and up), duck or mushroom pates packaged in vacuum jars ($3), canned paella ($2.40), leather jewelry chests ($56) and flasks ($18 and up) and colorful Cuenca and Granada rugs (about $450 to $1,500 per square meter).

Antiques and Modern

The furnishings and decor building has traditional and modern furniture, an art gallery, antiques and an interior-design service.

Good buys include leather sofas (about $5,000), leather-and-chrome easy chairs (about $240), modern metal and canvas folding chairs in vivid colors ($52 each) and embroidered linen table clothes (small for $50 and up; a 24-person extravaganza $415).

As part of an outreach program, El Corte Ingles is offering two shopping package tours to Madrid for Americans. The packages, available through March 31, are guaranteed to make shopping an incentive for selecting Spain as a destination.

In addition to shopping, the tours offer an introduction to Madrid’s sights and cultural life. A $699 package includes round-trip air fare from New York City to Madrid, three nights at the four-star Los Galgos Hotel, breakfast buffets and a day (10 a.m. to 9 p.m.) of shopping (with a snack break, dinner and fashion show) at El Corte Ingles Castellana.

The trip also includes a sightseeing tour of Madrid with stops at the Prado Museum, the Royal Palace and the Convento de Las Descalzas Reales, an evening of dining on tapas in old Madrid and another at Gran Casino Madrid, luncheon at Posada de la Villa (an inn founded in 1642), another lunch at Casa de Valencia and transfers by private motor coach.

The $799 package covers round-trip air fare from Miami to Madrid and four nights at Hotel Los Galgos. All services and amenities in the $699 tour are offered, plus an extra day for shopping and/or sightseeing in Madrid.


To join either of these packages, Los Angeles area residents must fly to New York City or Miami on their own.

However, travelers to Madrid needn’t take the package to shop at El Corte Ingles. The advantage of the tour is that participants get a $50 El Corte Ingles gift certificate.

More Gifts

Additional gifts include a Fuji disposable camera with 24 exposures, L’atouche perfume (El Corte Ingles’ signature scent) in a rechargeable silver purse atomizer for women or L’atouche cologne for men, a Maja Eau de Toilette and soap set. There’s a Majorca bracelet (gold-plated silver band with Majorca simulated pearls at both ends) for women or cuff link and tie-tack set for men, a leather-bound coffee table book, “Lladro: The Magic World of Porcelain,” and an individualized packet of skin-care product samples by Kao Sofina (along with a free skin-type analysis).

It’s difficult to calculate the value of these gifts because most of them are available only through El Corte Ingles. But all the gifts, including the gift certificate, should add up to about $200 worth of merchandise.

Upon arrival at El Corte Ingles, tour participants are taken to the interpreters’ desk (main building, main floor), where they will be met by English-speaking guides who will accompany them in small groups throughout the store. Participants also may shop on their own; throughout the store are telephones to English-speaking interpreters.

Shoppers also will get a tax rebate on items bought for export. The rebate is from 12% (on leather clothing, for example) to 33% (on furs and gold jewelry). However, each item must cost at least 47,000 pesetas (about $392) to qualify for the rebate.

Shoppers can get their tax rebates at the airport before they leave Spain. Customers who buy items in other stores will receive tax rebates by mail.


For more information, phone ECI Travel at (800) 333-2469 or (212) 944-9400 or your travel agent.