Prato Shopkeeper Defeated by Technology

Brunilda Cocchi in her Prato shop

In the Tuscan city of Prato, down a narrow street in the historic center, one finds Brunilda Cocchi behind the counter of her sewing supplies, notions and accessories shop.  The shop, a time capsule of days past, contains a wall of button boxes, each one revealing the type of button inside with one sewn on the lid.  Another wall holds underwear, nylon stockings, socks and baby clothing, still enclosed in their original boxes.  A wooden measuring stick lies on the green Formica countertop.

No music plays, no neon signs flash in the windows and there’s not even a telephone in the shop.  But Ms. Cocchi, 99 years young, stands behind the counter every morning wearing the blue smock that all Italian shopkeepers wore in the past.  Since her mother opened the store in 1927, transactions have always been completed in cash.  Never married and without children, a nephew accompanies her to work in the morning and helps her open for business.

The shopkeeper acknowledges she will soon sell her business, called a merceria in Italy, not because she doesn’t have the will or energy to keep the store open.  The issue is the use of credit cards and the government’s recent ruling that all shops must have a point of service for electronic payments.  “I can’t use it and I don’t want to learn,” insists Cocchi.

She reflects on a time long gone when the roads weren’t paved and there were many factories in Prato.  Asked if she blames shopping malls for the decline in her customer numbers, she insists the crisis in her business began when women started wearing pants (trousers in the U.K.) instead of dresses and the sale of nylon stockings dwindled.  She counters, “But I have loyal customers who know that when they come to me, they find beautiful and quality things and my things last over time.”

Recently the government extended the enforcement of the law, originally meant to be imposed December 31, 2019, giving merchants an extension until July to install credit card processing equipment.  Brunilda Cocchi, who turns 100 in May, says she will stay in business until that time.  (rita kungel)

To read more in Italian, visit Florence’s La Repubblica news site.