Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

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If youíve been living in Florence for a while, you may have noticed that stores here have a way of disappearing practically overnight. One day you go out to get your carton of eggs where youíve always bought your eggs, and instead of the friendly local grocery store, the space is now occupied by a business selling Oriental knick-knacks. Or you quickly run out to get the tomatoes you forgot that morning at the market, and you discover that your neighbourhood greengrocer has suddenly metamorphosed into a scarf and tie shop.

Believe it or not but Florence used to be full of shops where you could buy the things necessary to life, not just souvenirs for tourists. There were plenty of small general grocery stores; there were plenty of greengrocers and delicatessens; there were lots of stores where you could acquire TVs and radios, even fridges and washing machinesóright in the centre!

There were hardware stores that sold thousands of wonderful things, like the tiniest nails and screws and hinges for the little wooden boxes that Florentine craftsmen cover with paper or leather. Of course, these stores also carried normal household hardware. Everything was sold loose, by the piece or by weight, nothing was packaged in those wretched plastic containers that just increase the price of the product as well as the garbage that you have to dispose of. The walls of hardware stores usually had small drawers that ran from floor to ceiling, and each of these drawers hid some beautifully crafted thingóbrass hooks in all sizes, knobs, handles, you name it, they had it.

The furnishing of at least one such hardware stores survives, although the business is no longer the same. But it is worthwhile peering into the window of via Condotta 12/R just to see what such an emporium used to look like. There is another old traditional hardware store in Via Pucci, right across from Palazzo Pucci. Go and look at it, quick. By tomorrow it may be a 99 cent store or a kebab take-out. If it isnít already gone.

Newcomers to Florence probably wonít notice that there is a certain monotony to the postcards offered for sale. Years ago you used to be able to get postcards (cheap) of almost any object in any museum or of any monument in Florence. The bookstores in Via Ricasoli had an enormous selection. Slowly but surely the postcards have been reduced to a handful of motifs, some in very bad taste, some boringly repetitious, and some extremely beautiful. But where are you going to find a postcard of that amazing little casket you saw in the Bargello, or of the portrait by someone whose name you canít remember but which looks just like your uncle Henry when he was young? Your last hope now is to go to the newspaper kiosk at the north-west corner of Piazza Signoria and peruse their postcard stand, the one on the west side (the rest of the kiosk is full of gimmicky souvenirs). This kiosk is the only place left in Florence where you might, if you are extremely lucky, find what you are looking for. That is, if it, too, hasnít folded its tent and departed.

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This page last updated: November 28, 2009.