They are hanging in there, but Florentine markets are fighting the recession, too. They are a mainstay of the local economy, and in these dismal times, even these apparently thriving marketplaces are feeling the same pinch that other commercial enterprises know too well.
The principal Florentine street markets are San Lorenzo, in the historic center, and Le Cascine, in the park to the west of the city, with other large markets in the environs, in Sesto Fiorentino and Scandicci. There are still others-in fact, across the whole province of Florence a total of 176 markets are held on a regular basis, for a total of 5,368 market stands-but the ?big four’ are the better known-and more touristy.
Markets in the towns are held daily, weekly or monthly, and across the Florentine area employ more than 800 people. In recent years, as major supermarket chains slowly kill off the small local shops in many areas, markets have taken the place of shops, providing a very different service: a visit to a market is as much a socio-cultural exercise as a commercial one. Nobody dashes to a market to pick up a couple of items as they would to the Coop, and it is very hard indeed to come away from one having purchased only what was on your shopping list. Over and above the important role that markets play in local employment and economic development, they have an important traditional role in keeping the city alive and dynamic.
However, 2009 was a bleak year for keeping Florence just that. Overall market turnover was down by an enormous 11.59 percent on the previous year (which was not exactly a stunning year in itself). The sector that was hit hardest was fashion and the clothing industry, followed by household goods and food items. Over the same period, warehousing costs and fixed business costs increased by a margin of about 5 to 7 percent net.
The only good news (relatively speaking) was that the number of purchases remained stable, indicating that people are still buying, but simply spending less on each purchase, bringing down industry profits by about 9.17 percent. So that would explain why the markets appear to be full of people, yet trade figures are drastically lower; we are still going but we are all spending a little less each time we go. Surprisingly, statistics show that as much as 87 percent of the shoppers are local residents, reinforcing the idea that the market is like the local supermarket. Office employees, homemakers and the retired make up the bulk of the customers. Despite tourists being a heavy presence at markets, they are often there for a look (markets are fantastic places for people watching!), not to buy. San Lorenzo is the obvious exception, with a heavy commercially active tourist presence.
So, as a visitor or resident, what might you do to better enjoy the area’s markets, catch a bargain, and help support this important social and commercial aspect of Florentine life? Although the San Lorenzo market and, especially, the Mercato Centrale indoor food market, should be visited, check out an out-of-town market. Easy ones to reach by train are Figline Valdarno (Tuesdays), Pontassieve (Wednesdays) and Borgo San Lorenzo (Tuesdays), and on the number 7 bus you can reach Fiesole (Saturdays). See http://www.italiaambulante.com/mercatiFirenze1.asp for a comprehensive list of all the markets in the area. And if you do go, buy something and support the local economy. Actually, buy two things: we have an economic deficit to make up for, thank you very much!
The data for this article comes from the Provicial Councillor for Development and Planning, Giacomo Billi, via research conducted by the Osservatorio del Commercio.