Posted by: Debra Kolkka | August 8, 2013

Use it or lose it

One of the things I love about living in Italy is the small, locally owned food shops.

In Bagni di Lucca I like to shop at Patrizia’s fruit and vegetable establishment. Here it is “Non si tocca”, “Don’t touch”. Patrizia will help you chose what you want, the perfect tomatoes for your salad for lunch, the best pears to poach, or the melon that will be ripe for a Sunday feast.

We have markets that come to the village twice a week offering wonderful produce at excellent prices.

I can’t imagine why you would want to shop in a huge supermarket when you have gorgeous shops like this one in Florence.



…or the Central Market for fabulous choice like this.


..or this lovely deli in Lucca.


We have lost our butcher in Bagni di Lucca. He made the best sausages, but he couldn’t compete with the 2 supermarkets in town.

Other small shops have closed too, a deli and a fresh pasta shop. I hate to see this happening, but I can’t see a solution if people continue to do most of their shopping at supermarkets.

Here in Brisbane we have some excellent alternatives to supermarket shopping. In my local West End shopping strip we have a very good fruit and vegetable shop where you actually get to deal with the owners.



Mitch at James St markets has a great range of fresh food.


Jerome at the Sourced Grocer in New Farm has reinvented the corner store. He searches for small producers of delicious food for his well stocked shop. As well as this there is a small kitchen preparing breakfast, lunch, coffee and treats to eat at a long table. It is a great place to meet your friends while finding something special for dinner.


In Australia 2 large supermarket chains control the bulk of food retailing, which to me is all wrong. As well as setting the shopping hours and reducing the prices paid to producers, they are removing brand names from their shelves and replacing them with their own in house brands…just another way of removing the competition.

Of course supermarkets are convenient and it is easy to get into the habit of one stop shopping, but if we don’t use the alternatives there won’t be any.

Go for a walk, get to know the small businesses in your area. I’m sure they will be happy to see you.


  1. Hmmm same here in nz….progressive and foodstuffs…aussie owned i think..well progressive is… I like to buy locally too here but the sad reality is, here and like many places, its more expensive but a large portion than the supermarket….that is sad and it is one of the things I love about small places in italy that still are able to do so…shop locally:)

    • In Italy it is actually cheaper to buy from small markets. I love to shop at the local markets in our area.

      • yes, it is in Italy but its not the case here, maybe because I am in the city which means my local is a suburb….but my mum who lives in a village of 1000 now only has one shop and it is way way too expensive to buy anything but bar the most rudimentary items there…..even the fruit/veg local farmer is not cheap either which is sad because most people would love to buy locally here and there but it is too pricey in many cases…At our local butcher here, i can only get 3 days meat which would buy me 5-6 days at the supermarket..

  2. Lovely post, Deb! xx

    • Thank you. Shop local and in season.

  3. It’s terrible when little shops give out to supermarkets. Part of the trouble isn’t just the “lower” prices (at the expense of quality) – it’s the rent factor – especially in Lucca when international names are willing to pay the property owners more to get a foothold in the market and oust previous local tenants who just can’t afford to pay those rents demanded.

    • I like to see small shops flourishing. It is much nicer to buy from somebody you know.

  4. Patrizia also makes some beautiful “bouquets” or bunches using small chillies and other veggies as if they were flowers.
    On the other hand, I think that Italian supermarkets offer an excellent variety of products, including regional produce. And there are differences between what you can buy at say Esselunga in Maria and Leclerc-Conad in Gallicano or even the more local Conad supermarkets in Fornoli or Bag I do Lucca. The Wednesday and Saturday markets on the square at La Villa also offer very nice local produce.
    I must add that we are spoiled for choice in Bagni di Lucca…

    • I agree that the supermarkets in the Bagni di Lucca do a good job, but it would be a real shame if the small shops kept disappearing because they can’t compete. Once they are gone, it is very difficult to get them back, just look at Ponte a Serraglio.

  5. Hear! Hear! Shopping is a moral and social act. Do you want your money to go to the shareholders of supermarkets, who you don’t know, or to your friends, as small shopkeepers will become if you make a habit of buying from them? As to prices, the low prices in supermarkets come at the cost of beating down the prices of producers. In order to sell to supermarkets, artisan producers begin to industrialise, if they don’t go out of business. Also, have you ever calculated whether you really spend less at a supermarket? All those bargains: two for the price of one. Did you need two baskets of peaches? Did you manage to eat all of them before they started to rot or did you throw out the second basket? Given rising obesity, wouldn’t it make sense to buy less, but buy better?

    • I’m with you Heather.

  6. Look at the size of those onions!

    Great points about small, local stores. Here in the US, small grocers are rare. Summers are a wonderful time with farmer’s markets – which have great melons right now!

    • We lost most of our corner stores in Australia many years ago. There has been a small trend for these to come back. I hope it continues.

    • We have excellent farmers’ markets in Australia most weekends. They are a fun place to shop.

  7. If you want more evidence of the evils of supermarkets, here’s what they’ve done to the tomato and the people who grow them in the US: I agree with Mulino Dominillo that some Italian supermarkets have locally produced food, but I wonder what the producers would tell us about the effect on them of supplying supermarkets.

  8. I can’t stand “centri commerciali” and new ones are sprouting up all the time – viz yet another on Viale Europa, Capannori. Who said we needed them….

    • There are huge shops in that area near Lucca. Somebody must be shopping there.

  9. Absolutely I agree. It is up to us to keep these small shops alive by supporting them and by not shopping solely at W and C. Actually I mostly avoid shopping at the majors here in Australia as monopoly is dangerous. It is not good that these 2 chains have approx 80% of the market here. Debra you have hit a raw nerve here with me. Sadly it would appear to me that most people do not get it.

    • Unfortunately convenience wins in many cases.

  10. It is so important that small shops like these exist. They bring character to the village.

    • They certainly do. It would be a shame to lose them.

  11. I loved to watch them dear Debra, I love Italian markets… so beautiful and rich… Mediterranean is amazing. Thank you, love, nia

    • I love them too Nia, but many are disappearing.

  12. The produce looks amazing! Here in Ecuador, we try to buy as much as we can from the “mercados.” It’s all local and so, so affordable.
    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • I’ll bet they have some interesting produce.

  13. I, too, love the small stores for food. Their quality is so much better than the large supermarket chains. Farmer’s markets have become a huge thing here in California and it’s a joy to see them always full! I think that people are beginning to see the value of eating produce fresh from the farm! Whenever I go to the farmer’s markets, I feel like I’m visiting the mercatos in Italy! But sadly, I think the Italians are going to the way of convenience….and it’s a shame! PS…I have gotten reprimanded many times in Italian produce markets for touching the goods! Oops!

    • It seems Italians love to shop at supermarkets. I see trolley laden with stuff at the checkouts.

  14. These shops could really use a break from the bureaucratic difficulties of running a shop in these small towns and a tax incentive would be very welcome. The opposite seems to be happening. Economic conditions force the locals to shop where they can get the biggest break.
    Patrizia’s shop in BDL also has some lovely ceramics. I usually make a purchase every year as a reminder of our special time spent here.

    • We now have a very good shop in Vergemoli where our new house is. I think the mayor arranged a special deal for the food shop and the pharmacy to allow them to operate. It is great to see people lined up to buy the produce. Previously they had to go down the mountain to the nearest supermarket.

  15. Lovely post and pictures Debra. I never expected Lucca to have supermarkets at all! I detest characterless supermarkets, and even malls. Let us hope neighbourhood markets can fight back, with a little help from loyal customers 🙂

    • There are several huge supermarkets around Lucca, not inside the walls fortunately, but not far outside, and they are very popular.

  16. It is so sad to see the small local businesses not be able to succeed…especailly when their products are so lovely.

    • It is sad when these shops disappear,we need to support them.

  17. Such a shame that they are closing down! Small shops like that should be treasured 🙂

    • We have lost our mini market, butcher and hardware shop in the 10 years I have been in Ponte a Serraglio. I can’t see how we will get them back.

  18. I so absolutely agree with you with the Italian little markets, I enjoyed that so much recently when I stayed in Tuscany , in Mercatale, not onlt the shopping was wonderful also listening to all the locals and the way they greet each other. Bon giorno signora! Cornelia

    • Shopping at the markets is a great experience. That just doesn’t happen at supermarkets.

  19. Just one bite of the delicious fruit and vegetables from these amazing places and there is no going back to big supermarkets. Beautiful mouth watering photos. Melissa

    • I refuse to buy fresh food at our supermarkets here in Australia…for many reasons.

  20. Vegetables and fruit sold in season are the only way to go. Coming back from Italy to the UK every time, and seeing the perfectly shaped red bell peppers, featherlight, from glasshouses in Holland, compared the heavy odd shaped pepperoni che si trovano in italia wakes me every time me to the culture of growing and eating there – long may it exist

    • I hope the food culture doesn’t change in Italy too much, but I fear it might.

      • In Pitigliano many people own small land holding not far away from the town, growing all their own. One step up from that there is a lot of local produce grown and sold to shops from the area. In Rome they have the great Trionfale market where you simply are overwhelmed by the amount of produce – and what a market! It would a massive cultural shift for Italians to lose the base of their food culture. In many ways they have sidestepped the worst of the junk food culture, but having their own superb fast food – pizza, which when made in Italy is simply another fine cooked food. But there are worrying inroads, supermarkets, Macdonads etc But Italians still have it right in the home cooked food and the (mini) markets thrive

  21. Thoroughly agree with you Debra….much better to shop “fresh” and more often at smaller, local shops……the food is so much better!

    • It helps if you can shop more than once a week, but I know that is not always possible if you work full time.

  22. You are so right. The wonderful italian fruit & veg is so much better at the local suppliers and markets than the large stores.

    • I much prefer to shop at the markets.

  23. True that, Debra. Very true. I always make it to a point to patronize local businesses. Sometimes, I don’t even go to downtowns and chooses to support the smaller businesses closer to my place.

    • I hope more people look for smaller businesses to support.

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