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Tapping Into the Local Scene One Drink at a Time
Sara and David's new bar, AlteArte is gaining a lot of attention and proving to become a real staple to locals and tourists.

Courtesy of Sara Wilson
Sara and David enjoying the acceptance of the local community.

Word spreads quickly in Spainís small villages. We saw it happening in Torrevieja when the old ladies would sit out on the sidewalks until late in the night, gossiping among themselves of all the neighborhood happenings. Now that we own a business in Altea, a village of 23,000, weíre directly feeling the impact that word of mouth can have.

People are talking about AlteArte. Customers know my name although I have never formally met them; others have heard that there were new owners who made lots of changes and came to see AlteArte for themselves. It wasnít until a man named Ernest came up to the bar a week after we had opened that it really struck home exactly how much people were talking. Ernest was en route back home to Lithuania after living in Hawaii for 10 years. He had made a quick stopover in Altea to see friends and had heard about a bar being run by a Californian and a Spaniard. Therefore, when he approached me at the bar, it was because he wanted to meet the Californian. He was friendly and left a deep impression on me, in that word was getting out not just about the business but also about David and meóand that it was positiveówas a solid sign that we were doing something right and gaining acceptance in Altea.

I couldnít have been more thrilled. Running a successful business in any village in Spain requires more than just the necessary capital, the right product or even good prices. More important than everything else is being accepted by the locals.

I had been conscious of the possibility that, by us coming from the outside, we might automatically be discounted in the eyes of the locals. I had even fretted to David that maybe traffic would die down once we took over AlteArte and all of Pepeís friends were no longer coming to see him. After all, Pepe, the previous owner, was Altean inside and out. He had been born here and had Altean ancestors. We, on the other hand, had just arrived to Altea in November. Therefore, how could we even attempt to establish the same kind of connection that Pepe had with the locals? We couldnít. So, somehow, we had to find our own way of connecting with them on a different level.

While we inevitably lost some of Pepeís regular clientele of locals, we have been fortunate to have many factors working in our favor that have helped us to keep others: David is Spanish and can naturally and instantly connect better with the locals than I ever could; AlteArte is a favorite hangout for some so even though the owners are new, the space still holds special significance for them; Pepe and his girlfriend, Amparo, are still regular customers which tells others weíre OK; and I have made a special effort to speak Spanish and get to know the names and favorite drinks of the regular customers.

It's Good to be an Outsider
The response has been favorable. I have come to realize that maybe it doesnít have to be such a negative thing that we come from the outside. Maybe the fact that we come from the outside adds flavor and color to the local scene. So long as we show we respect the Alteans and donít want to change things, the fact that Iím from California and that David and I have lived in New York City might actually be seen as exotic and as a good thing. Also, as long as I show people that Iím trying to learn Spanish they will see that Iím trying to integrate and forgive me for my horrible American accent and my lost-in-translation misunderstandings.

I started realizing that, by being a foreigner myself, maybe I could add a valuable component to AlteArte. I could motivate the Spaniards who want to practice their English to speak to me. Some wouldnít dare speak English except that they see I yearn to speak Spanish, and therefore feel more comfortable trying out their English.

Also, coming from the outside helps me connect better with the English-speaking tourists, like the couple from Poland who came during our second week and said they just want to talk to people but, wherever they go theyíre just served their drink and then left alone.

Slowly, weíre building a clientele of our own. Itís not Pepeís clients, or the original owner's, Benjamin. Itís a combination of the two. Itís the students who come out in droves on Thursday nights. Itís the Norwegians, Irish and English students from my class who tell me that they donít usually go to bars, but really like to come to AlteArte. Itís the local restaurant owners who come after they close their businesses to relax and get a drink. Itís an actor who has a house in Altea and stars in a Spanish TV seriesóhe plays a mean character on the show but is super nice in real life. Itís the grandson and daughter of an extremely important artist here in Altea. And itís the little old lady who was looking down from her balcony at the artist (who has since become my friend) painting below the very first time we visited Altea. She came two Sundays ago with her granddaughter and her husband to watch a soccer game.

When she walked through the door, David and I turned to each other and silently acknowledged the significance of the very monumental moment. For her mere presence inside AlteArte spoke volumes and demonstrated that we, indeed, were reaching the heart of Altea and moving from the outside in.

Sara Wilson is currently working as a freelance writer and lives in Torrevieja, Spain with her husband. She has kept a record of her adventures living abroad which you can find here or on her blog: http://sarawilson.wordpress.com. Contact her directly at wilson.sara@gmail.com.

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