A man adjusts his face mask as he walks past a mural of a crying woman in Rome's Trullo neighborhood, Monday, March 16, 2020. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World  Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
A man adjusts his face mask as he walks past a mural of a crying woman in Rome's Trullo neighborhood, Monday, March 16, 2020. The vast majority of people recover from the new coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, most people recover in about two to six weeks, depending on the severity of the illness. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Italy’s defiant shopkeepers tell customers: We’ll be back

By Jerrold Colten Time of article published Mar 16, 2020

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INTERNATIONAL - Barbers, bars, pizzerias, shoe stores, dry cleaners. All closed. The center of Milan, the usually vibrant hub of Italian business and commerce, is quiet, deserted, devoid of its usual addictive buzz.

From Mom & Pop teams running jam-packed household-goods stores to edgy young purveyors of the latest fashion trends, Milan’s shopkeepers began pulling down shutters early last week, even before Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte decreed on Wednesday that all non-essential commerce close down until March 25.

Similar restrictions are spreading across the continent, with Spain and France closing restaurants, cafes and shops in response to the rapid march of the coronavirus that has claimed the lives of more than 1,800 people in Italy alone. In the face of the economic pain that such actions will bring, people in cities like Milan, Italy’s financial capital, are trying to stay optimistic.

Milan is a city defined by work. The prosperous Milanese pride themselves on toiling long days -- though often with lengthy lunch breaks and confusing opening hours -- and many find themselves at a loss now, unable to continue with the jobs that give them definition, status... and of course, money.

While most shop owners left perfunctory postings on their storefronts noting that they’d closed, either preemptively or in accordance with the government decree, many added heartfelt messages to their clients, expressing regret at having to shut their doors.

“We will reopen as soon as possible,” said a sign at Maison Caffet confectioners near the city center. “Milan will rise again, and we’ll be there.”

Though shocked and saddened by the need to shut their doors, shopkeepers across the city had a single, defiant message: we’ll be back.

“We’re sure we’ll see each other again very soon,” said a sign on the tightly locked door of Shawn Milano, a women’s fashion boutique in Piazzale Baracca. “Thank you from the heart, we’ll embrace each other even from far away.”

“Obviously I’m sad,” said Alberto Visentini, as he finished closing up at his sporting goods store near Milan’s Central Station. “This has been my life for 33 years.”

Visentini, 61, said he’s confident that the government will honor its pledge to allow stores to reopen March 25, though even then, he’s worried about the “major economic damage” a two-plus week shutdown implies.

“We believe that closing is the best common-sense decision in respect to our clients,” said the sign at Sunny H clothing store in via Vincenzo Monti.

The landmark Bebel restaurant on via San Vittore -- where well-heeled over-60’s rub shoulders over pizza and beer on Saturday nights -- promised to open its doors again as soon as possible, “with the wish that Milan will come back even stronger than before.”

“Let’s hope the government does its job,” wrote the owners of the Diecidecimi optical shop in the upscale Corso Vercelli shopping district. “It’s up to us citizens to take our social responsibility. Together, we’ll come back.”

Though the message at Al Bazar in via Scarpa was much like the others -- the menswear store is closing in the interest of its “dear clients” -- the owners concluded with a message that’s become a mantra among Italians in these trying times: “Andra’ tutto bene,” or “Everything’s going to be alright.”

BLOOMBERG 

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