Goodbye Silvestro; with the last haberdashery a piece of Via Garibaldi’s history closes

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By Nino Baldan

7 December 2019

Venice is losing another piece of history: on 31 December Silvestro, the well-known haberdashery on Via Garibaldi, which has supplied residents of the area for generations, will close.

And there are two reasons: the rise in rent and the drop in population, factors which are now common in the historic center, bringing local businesses to a predictable and inexorable disappearance.

For several weeks now their merchandise has been on clearance, and to Claudio, the owner and last exponent of a family of merchants, nothing remains but to lower the shutters.

“My grandfather began a hundred years ago – he relates – first with door to door sales and later with small shops. He had ten children, and each one of them opened a business. But those were different times: there were 170,000 Venetians and on Via Garibaldi there were four clothing stores, two footwear and four or five haberdasheries”.

The Silvestro family expanded a bit in every direction: from San Polo to Mestre and finally reaching Jesolo. But the heart of their business remained Via Garibaldi. “We had three stores: one of 350mq (on two floors) with clothing, one of 220mq with curtains and mattresses, and the last, somewhat smaller, with intimates and accessories. But over time we had to resize until we condensed all the merchandise in to just one store”.

In the 2000s Claudio converted a space into a bar/slot machine lounge. “It was the only way to sustain the costs and survive. I would move the haberdashery a few more meters forward: I did not want to let it die, it’s a memory of my family and we are connected. I renamed it “sartorial first aid” because of all the small repairs we did”.

Now Silvestro will have to leave this new location too, but this time it will not reopen, putting an end to a family tradition that lasted more than a century.

“The merchant is finished – comments Claudio – and the killer was not only on-line sales but most of all the absence of a serious policy for the city of Venice: the residents are decreasing and the only businesses that are opening are directed at tourists. Faced with these rents, these taxes and an ever shrinking clientele, a shop like mine no longer has the means to support itself”.

“This tourism is an industry – continues Claudio – on one hand there are the big brands, supported by companies that are able to cover the costs; on the other hand the bars, restaurants, the knick-knack stores or, even worse, the shops selling food to go, who make their money betting on the numbers of tourists. We have become Disneyland”.

But Claudio doesn’t want to give up: “I am looking for a space with reasonable rent that would allow me to reopen the haberdashery and start again. Many customers are helping me in the search, but in these times, and most of all in the historic city, it will not be easy at all”.

A hope that becomes an appeal to every Venetian who own a fund and wants to help Claudio, his business and the work of Sabrina, the clerk who for more than two years has done what it takes to satisfy the requests of the customers.

Sabrina is also “a complete tailor”, very skilled with sewing and machine work. Another case of a profession that serves the citizens, on its way to disappearing.

“My wishes are not so much for Venice at present – concludes Claudio – but for the future: now my sons have moved away, and I fear that sooner or later the same will happen to me”.

With the closure of Silvestro, Via Garibaldi is losing perhaps the last bastion of venezianità, one of the stores that remained in the face of bars, cafes and pizzerias that in the last few years have left the area a photocopy of any other part of the city. When until recently, the “Via Garibaldi” was distinguished for the tradition and the social fabric of its numerous residents.

And, from January on, when a visitor asks us where one can find “the Venice that is not for tourists”, unfortunately we won’t know where to send them.

 

Source: La Voce di Venezia

 


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