ROME: It is not just stifling summer heat that is keeping shoppers at bay on Rome’s Via del Corso. As the economic crisis hits locals and tourists alike, many shops have little choice but to close for good.
The few people around zig-zag from shop to shop, seeking relief from stifling temperatures in air-conditioned outlets, leaving behind them a trail of frustrated shop assistants who struggle to sell anything despite discounts of up to 80%.
“The crisis has hit everyone,” sighed one empty-handed customer, while shopkeepers up and down the street whiled away their time folding and re-folding piles of brightly-coloured T-shirts and stylish outfits.
“The sales have not gone well,” said clothes shop manager Fabio Anticoli. While the Eternal City usually draws tourists from all over the world who are willing to spend their cash on Italian designs, “this year, it’s an impoverished tourism”.
The sales have gone “very badly” compared with 2011, according to the shopkeepers’ association Confesercenti. It reports a 20% drop in turnover in central Rome, a figure that rises to 40% in outer suburbs.
A stone’s throw from St Peter’s Square, naked dummies stand forlornly in the dusty window of an abandoned shop which once sold children’s clothing.
Even exclusive outfitters in Via Campo Marzio behind Italy’s Parliament have been affected. The family-run shop Conti has shut down, not far from the up-scale shoemaker Nando er Calzolaio, whose owners have also thrown in the towel.
Lina Rocchi, a lingerie shop founded in 1938, closed down and left a sign that read: “80 years, three generations, a story comes to an end.”
That prompted the Italian daily la Repubblica to cry that “Rome’s retail world is in mourning”.
While some, like Marco Meghnagi, manager of a store selling “Made in Italy” shirts, say that boutiques forced to close will open up again elsewhere where the rent is lower, Confesercenti says the situation is much more serious.
Big holidays over
“One thousand five hundred shops in Rome have already closed their doors for good since the start of 2012, and the figure might rise to 2,500 by the end of the year,” said the association’s head Valter Giammaria.
“It’s an enormous figure, small shops that are part of Italy’s history are disappearing one by one,” he said, blaming the recession which grips the country, as well as tax hikes and competition from large shopping centres.
As the crisis hits home, some are battling bankruptcy by hawking their treasured summer residences, posting “for sale” signs in their shop windows for beach houses and mountain lodges traditionally passed down through the generations.
“An increasing number of businessmen are forced to sell their second homes to be able to continue with their commercial activities,” Giammaria said.
Italy’s hotelier association Federalberghi has estimated that the crisis has also prevented 30 percent of Italians from going on holiday this year.
Hopeful of an extra sale or two, many shopkeepers are cancelling holidays to stay open throughout the summer.
“The period of big holidays is over. No one goes off for a month in August any more. People go for a day or two at the seaside, they stay near Rome and by Monday they are back at their desks,” Giammaria said.