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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Open at 5:30 a.m., close at 9 p.m., no vacations: the life of a newsstand owner in Rome









Open at 5:30 a.m., close at 9 p.m., take 4 days off a year.  That's the life of our local Italian newsstand owners.  Perhaps understandably, their children don't want to inherit the business. 

Sonia and Alessandro  - a lot of togetherness.
We've been buying our daily paper the last few weeks--since we moved into the Ostiense neighborhood--at this (photo above), our closest "edicola" or newsstand.  Because we never saw anyone except the same man and woman in the small stand--which seemed open every minute we walked by it, and because the two of them seem to have an amiable relationship in a very small space, we asked one day about their working relationship.  

Alessandro's father is in the stand, in this photo
from the 1950s, before the stand was moved
to the other side of the railway overpass.



Alessandro and Sonia, both good-natured and seemingly happy, explained they've been married for almost 35 years, and they own and run, without help from anyone else, this classic Italian "edicola."  

Now on the other side of the overpass.














In fact, the stand has been in Alessandro's family since 1929, when his grandfather started with a smaller stand on via Ostiense, just on the other side of the railroad overpass that is one of the markers of this neighborhood.  His father continued the business and moved it to the location it's in now, after the war damaged some of the infrastructure around it and the bridge was widened to handle more traffic.  

One can barely see Sonia and Alessandro; the edicola is crowded with
items to sell - from toys to tomes.
We asked Alessandro when he started working in this family business.  "Sempre" [always], he said; essentially, as we would say, "forever."  We asked the couple when they eat lunch or dinner. Dinner, they said, is usually at 10 or 10:30 p.m.  Alessandro ticked off the days they were closed:  Christmas, "Santo Stefano"  (the day after Christmas), New Year's Day, and Easter.  That's it.  It gives new meaning to 24/7. 

The newspaper business, said Alessandro, is "in crisi" (in crisis), and so is the newspaper stand business, it appears.  A stand even closer to us remains shuttered with a "vendesi" and "affitasi" (for sale or for rent) sign on it. And one reason the couple never has anyone else help them is, as Alessandro said, because they don't have the "soldi" (money) to pay anyone else.
Nearby stand with "for sale/for rent" sign.

Alessandro is constantly rearranging the
merchandise - to sell more.
Looking at the stand, it is, as most of them, very "vistoso" (showy, colorful), because in addition to selling print media--magazines, newspapers, books--they sell lots of toys, as well as CDs, DVDs, maps, wrapping paper, some arts and crafts, lottery tickets, used books and vintage comic books.  We have seen Alessandro constantly arranging and rearranging the enormous display that surrounds the edicola, inside and out.  The "gadgets," as Alessandro referred to them, are promoted by the publishers to help the newsstand--and the publishers--survive.

Also critical to the stand's economic well-being are its regular customers, Alessandro said.  The neighborhood has changed dramatically since the huge central fruit and vegetable market (I mercati generali) closed in 2002, after more than 80 years of operation.  Now instead of the "piu' sano lavoratori" (more sane, normal laborers), said Alessandro, there are people coming to the neighborhood in the evening to eat at the many new upscale restaurants and, he said, get drunk. This isn't the clientele that will buy his products.  

In many ways the edicola is another example of the changing demographics of Rome neighborhoods and the demise of the Italian small business owner and, yes, the artisan, a demise often lamented in the newspapers Alessandro and Sonia sell.  

Alessandro, laughing, described himself as the last man standing.  And what will happen when he retires?  Their four adult children all have college degrees, of which they are rightly proud, and they will not take over the business.  He and Sonia hope to sell the stand - that's their retirement.

 Dianne 

3 comments:

Richard Peterson said...

This is one of your best postings. A poignant human story, exemplifying loss of ordinary, but significant cultural heritage.

Riley said...

Lovely piece. Please tell me that was a reference to the "We Never Close" / "2-4"!

smitaly said...

Great piece. Far too many edicole have closed in my neck of Roma over the last three or four years. I have hopes that the newsstand I sustain most regularly is safe from closure as they already include a member of the next generation.