Apple discards sherry sign

One of the best-loved of Madrid’s examples of 20th century technology is under threat from 21st century technology. The famous Tio Pepe neon sign has been illuminating Puerta del Sol in the heart of the Spanish capital for 76 years, but its building is now the headquarters of Apple’s Spanish retail empire.

Uncle Pepe has been persuading madrileños to buy the Andalucian aperitif through some of the most turbulent times in the country’s history, including civil war, dictatorship and imminent economic meltdown. Now Apple are renovating the building.

City planning chiefs are already nervous. "This is a building with special connotations for people from Madrid," a spokesman told The Guardian. "They have long called it the Tío Pepe building because of the sign that crowns it."

The sherry makers Gonzalo Byass have reported that Apple have no plans to restore the neon sign to its traditional position. "The owners are not interested in the neon sign going back there," a spokeswoman told El País, provoking an outcry among traditionalists.

The sign has already survived one attempt to dim it permanently, when the city removed hundreds of neon signs in 2009. Its iconic status saved it then. "The Tío Pepe sign is to Madrid what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris," the former mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón said.

Spain might have more pressing matters to worry about than a sherry sign, but activists see it as a symbol of what has happened to Spain in recent years: the country’s traditions being swept away by big corporations. And they don’t come much bigger than Apple.

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