5:01am

Sat January 7, 2012
Business

Italian Shopkeepers Say 'No, Grazie' To More Hours

Originally published on Sat January 7, 2012 6:50 pm

Italy's new prime minister, technocrat Mario Monti, wants to stimulate growth by boosting productivity and competitiveness. A new law that went into effect Jan. 1 allows shops, cafes and restaurants to stay open 24/7 all year long, holidays included. This deregulation puts Italy ahead of many European countries, but many Italians are resisting.

Friday — the Day of the Epiphany — was the first holiday of the year. In Rome, however, hardly anyone took advantage of the liberalized shop hours.

Restaurants were open, and so were a few cafes. But people looking for groceries were out of luck. Bakeries were closed, so were butchers and greengrocers. Even the trendy organic food shop was shuttered tight.

Italian customs are hard to change.

Carlo Cicchitto owns a mom-and-pop household goods shop, but has no intention to open on a holiday.

"We can't be slaves to the store. If we keep it open, utility costs would rise," he says in Italian. "This new law may be good for customers, but for us shopkeepers, it's too big a sacrifice."

The governors of two regions are planning to challenge the new law in court. Despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they claim deregulated shop hours will create problems for small businesses and that consumerism is not a good answer to the economic crisis.

On the competitiveness scale, Italy is at the bottom of the list of industrialized countries. The economy is dominated by powerful business lobbies, representing, for example, pharmacists, notaries, lawyers and taxi drivers.

Professional guilds determine not only membership and pay scales, but also work hours. In the case of shops, they decide the dates sales can take place.

Political scientist James Walston of the American University of Rome says Italian guilds are so deep-seated and part of the social fabric that they'll be a challenge for the prime minister.

"The chances of Monti defeating all of them and the chances of him introducing some kind of Thatcher or Reagan free-market Italy are very, very slim," he says.

Deregulation is opening up new paths for some, though. On the holiday of the Epiphany, one enterprising young man drew crowds of customers. At his outdoor stand, he demonstrated a simple kitchen gadget that peels, cores and slices vegetables.

This master salesman is Ahmed, an Egyptian. It's a sign that immigrants — not chained to old traditions — are perhaps best equipped to take advantage of new opportunities.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Italy's new prime minister wants to stimulate growth by boosting productivity and competiveness. A new law that went into effect January 1st allows Italy's shops, cafe's and restaurants to stay open 24/7 all year long, holidays included. This deregulation puts Italy ahead of many European countries, but as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports, many Italians are resisting.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Friday, the day of the Epiphany, was the first holiday of the year. But in Rome, hardly anyone took advantage of the liberalized shop hours.

Restaurants are open, so are a few cafes. But if people are looking for groceries, they're out of luck. Bakeries are shut, so are butchers and green grocers. Even the trendy organic food shop is shuttered tight. Italian customs are hard to change.

Carlo Cicchitto owns a mom and pop household goods shop, but has no intention to open on a holiday.

CARLO CICCHITTO: (Through translator) We can't be slaves to the store. If we keep it open, utility costs would rise. This new law may be good for customers, but for us shopkeepers it's too big a sacrifice.

POGGIOLI: The governors of two regions are planning to challenge the new law in court. Despite being on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they claim de-regulated shop hours will create problems for small businesses and that consumerism is not a good answer to the economic crisis.

On the competiveness scale, Italy is at the bottom of the list of industrialized countries. The economy is dominated by powerful business lobbies, representing, for example, pharmacists, notaries, lawyers and taxi drivers. Professional guilds determine not only membership and pay scales but also work hours, and in the case of shops, the dates sales can take place.

Political scientist James Walston says Italian guilds are so deep-seated and part of the social fabric they'll be a challenge for the prime minister.

JAMES WALSTON: The chances of Monti actually defeating all of them and the chances of him introducing some sort of Thatcher or Reagan free-market Italy are very, very slim.

POGGIOLI: But deregulation is opening up new paths for some.

AHMED: Very nice. Very easy. Look at this, very, very, clever.

POGGIOLI: On the holiday of the Epiphany, one enterprising young man is drawing crowds of customers. At his outdoor stand, he demonstrates a simple kitchen gadget that peels, cores and slices vegetables. This master salesman is Ahmed, an Egyptian. A sign that immigrants, not chained to old traditions, are perhaps best equipped to take advantage of new opportunities.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.

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SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.