On the corner that goes from the campo to Calle del Tentor, there is a small, well-stocked stationery shop. All you have to do is enter a glass door and carefully climb a step to enter a bygone world, among albums and notebooks, sheets for painting or wrapping, easels and canvases, colors and brushes, pens and markers, pencils and 0.5 mm mechanical pencils – or 0.7 for those who love thicker lines, adhesive and paper tape, wrapping paper and much more: compasses, rulers, protractors, other drawing tools…
Everyone finds what they need here: from those who want to paint Venetian corners to those who have to prepare parcels for relocation and travel, from the art or architecture student to the person who still simply loves to write by hand, or who needs that still indispensable tool, the pencil. You feel at home and know you can count on a well-stocked shop and an old-time reliable shopkeeper: Paolo, the “friendly stationer” of San Giacomo da l’Orio.
This is the first reason why the San Giacomo stationery shop should be pointed out as a “neighborhood shop” par excellence. I use this expression to define businesses that allow the inhabitants of a city to live, providing them with the necessities for living (from food to basic retail).
The second reason is that Paolo’s is (with greengrocer and newspapers/tobacconist) the only remaining neighborhood shop in the campo and immediate surroundings.
San Giacomo dell’Orio is a campo in transformation, a barometer of processes which, although they might be called “urban regeneration” elsewhere, just as often here in Venice they are more precisely defined as “urban degeneration”.
In recent years, a bank has been replaced by a restaurant, a university library by a hotel, a hairdresser by a bar. More recently, the stationery newsstand has abandoned its historic location to move to a smaller location, a little further away. They say that this will make way for the pharmacy in Lista dei Bari, which in turn is moving to be replaced by a restaurant. This choice is consistent with the trend, since Lista and Calle Lunga dei Bari are increasingly at the center of the controversy over “harassing nightlife”…
However, this process concerns the entire historic city.
Local food shops and bakeries are closing everywhere, and at the same time ever larger spaces are opening up for supermarkets with a product offering that is increasingly aimed at tourists’ quick consumption. There are fewer and fewer shops selling household items and appliances; now for any need it is easier to take the car or use the shuttles to go to some store – more or less mega – on the mainland.
Living in Venice as a Venetian is increasingly difficult.
I still have the privilege of doing it today. I live in my own house, I have a Coop downstairs, a bakery and a specialty food store (for treats) just a few minutes away. I am a quarter of an hour walk from both the station and Piazzale Roma, an indispensable element for crossing that threshold which ironically made Mario Stefani say that, if there were no bridge, Venice would see Europe as an island.
But even for us “residual Venetians”, doubts about the possibility of survival in the city grow with the increase in the speed of the processes of “urban degeneration”.
There are structural reasons: a rental market for residents – old and new – that has been “closed” by competition from short-term rentals to tourists; a lack of public spaces for relationships and meetings and the processes of land speculation induced by tourism; the crisis of neighborhood commerce, and the difficulty for young people in finding work that isn’t temporary and not linked to tourism.
Furthermore, something that I would define as “urban depression” is also starting to weigh on us.
The structural reasons are iconically summarized in the film Welcome Venice by Andrea Segre, with the protagonist struggling to resist and live in his city (the Giudecca) and to live off his hard work (as a moecante) and making “easy money” by renting the house to tourists and going to stay on the mainland.
The second is that we can no longer stand these transformations driven by omnivorous tourism, which causes damage to the city and the inhabitants and largely takes the revenues outside.
We are starting to hear about cases of residents who cannot bear to witness the disappearance of the urban fabric in which they grew up and which is now being “eaten up” by bars, restaurants and a commercial structure increasingly serving tourists and less and less the population. They prefer to escape and abandon the city where they were born and grew up, and which they loved, but whose betrayal they cannot bear.
I live in San Giacomo dell’Orio and I’m still staying, as I was saying. Because Venice is truly the “fifteen-minute city” that urban planners like so much. Which in addition to “bread” offers “roses”.
If I have a problem related to electrical appliances, I go to Zaffalon in Campiello del Specier In a few minutes and they solve it for me. A few days ago, my TV screen “blew” and I went to them because I know they “work miracles”, but with little hope. It was worth a try before going to look for a new one in Marghera. Well: they didn’t change out the damaged chip, but instead replaced the entire board. So, for a price not even remotely comparable to what I would have spent buying a new one, I recovered and “rejuvenated” my old TV. Now I see more than before, better than before… Because that is a shop that belongs to the never-praised-enough category of repair techs, today replaced by serial retailers who in the name of planned obsolescence sell devices that break and have to be thrown away and replaced by buying new ones.
And it’s nice that in our ancient city there are still those who fix and recover and allow things to last (saving resources and increasing their lifespan). Even if there is no shortage of “disposable traders”. The first person I turned to try to recover my TV was a large seller (which begins with “Ca….” and ends with “…uto”), where I was smugly told that for a 32 inch find someone to fix them and it wouldn’t even be worth it…
When I need something for the house (and the person: from underwear to crockery, from stationery to household cleaning, from crafts to healthcare products) it doesn’t take me long to get to the best-stocked place you can find, the Santa Margherita mini-market. It’s a local shop, but I almost feel like saying “neighborhood”, due to the quantity of services it is able to provide you…
And then in Venice you can also sometimes witness a miracle. One occurred a few months ago (and right near my house): a small but well-stocked and welcoming Feltrinelli bookshop opened in Rio Terà Secondo. This courageous choice was inspired by the publisher’s new approach of selling only books (without gadgets and various trinkets), which is proving successful here too. Venetians are few but they read a lot and this explains (together with the passage of tourists, who find a section dedicated to visiting the city) why bookshops are perhaps the only growing product sector (obviously after businesses that provide food and drink). In my eyes, its location (probably unintentional) in the house of Aldo Manuzio is auspicious: the man who brought an innovation to sixteenth-century Venice – the printing of books, even in small formats – which contributed to making it the Silicon Valley of the era…
So, I’m staying. We remain – we “residual Venetians” – so that they can continue to run what are now our “beloved shops”. As long as they resist, because they are under attack by economic activities that are easier (to “open”, as well as to “close”, passing on licenses…).
I’m talking about bars and restaurants, which play the same role in the process of urban degradation of the city in the field of commercial and public activities that houses offered for short-term rental to tourists rather than for long-term rental to the inhabitants have in the residential field.
To read the ongoing dynamics I leave the house, go to the campo and look around.
With the recent transformations I mentioned earlier, today San Giacomo has reached the milestone of ten bars and restaurants. Paolo, the friendly stationer, is the standard bearer for neighborhood shops. I don’t know what will happen when he retires.
I recently joined the “Danni da movida” (Damage from Nightlife) committee, which is implementing what has been the group’s project since immediately after Covid, starting with mobilizations and assemblies to limit the invasion of outdoor seating (or dehors) that had begun to invade urban spaces beyond all measure. The project is to extend the battle not only to some areas, but to the entire city, because the entire city is affected by the dynamics I have highlighted.
The requests that the Committee has addressed to the Municipality, presented in the public meeting of 16 November 2023 in the municipal headquarters of San Lorenzo, seem important to me.
Knowledge of the Commercial and Environmental Permits of the venues allows you to see which ones are authorized to play music, whether they are soundproofed, whether they pay SIAE rights.
Constant noise monitoring by ARPAV is necessary, because it is the only body officially authorized to do so. Furthermore, numerous unofficial surveys carried out by the Committee in various points of the city reveal a constant exceeding of noise limits.
It is also important to check the plans (the tool that the Municipality has given itself to authorize outdoor seating) and compliance with the measures provided for by the Regulations for the occupation of public land.
But above all, checks by the police (also and especially in the evening and night hours) appear to be decisive to ensuring that the respect for public peace, which is required by national law and the municipal urban police regulation, is guaranteed.
During that same crowded assembly the problem was raised (and also taken up by the Municipality of Venice) of understanding how to stop this process of replacing local service and retail businesses (which are decreasing as the residents are decreasing – even though the cause and effect relationship between the two seems to me to be ambiguous…) with bars and restaurants (which are growing disproportionately in relation to the growth of tourists, including and above all daily ones…).
I believe that attention should be focused precisely on this aspect of urban impoverishment: how to defend neighborhood services and commerce from the onslaught of bars and restaurants.
And while we wait for the necessary administrative measures to be approved and implemented by “those who command …” (to quote Sir Oliver Skardy) – be they the municipal, regional or national government – there are some behaviors that each of us can implement. In order to improve the situation and defend ourselves while waiting for intervention from the institutions in charge. Which, let it be said incidentally, who knows if and when they will intervene, if Sir Oliver Skardy is still right in saying about our government that “… they are always a ugly gang…”.
What we can do immediately is find and reclaim “our” neighborhood shops and spend what it takes to make us live and make them live.
A city is alive if it has its own body (houses and monuments), if it is supported on a skeleton (made up of basic urban services), and if it has an arterial and venous system made up of those who sell you the goods you need for living, at the neighborhood level. Without going to the mainland.
Do we want to try? Or do we want to go “outside” and buy where it seems like everything costs less, in the megastores that also offer us a shuttle service to get there and back?
Today we do this to go the mainland to buy cheaper.
The next step will be to be forced to live there, far away…
Here we go back to the beginning: the cost of housing, rather than the absence of work, is the main element that is depopulating Venice. To understand this, just stand in Piazzale Roma and the station early in the morning or in the afternoon, after work and observe the direction of the flows, with more people entering the city in the morning and more people leaving in the afternoon.
However, the replacement of services and businesses dedicated to the inhabitants with businesses dedicated to tourists, primarily bars and restaurants, also has an impact.
If there is a Mayor who would take housing policies into their own hands, regulating short-term rentals, and who would launch measures not only to stop, but to reverse the trend of the disappearance of neighborhood businesses and the growth of bars and restaurants, tell me. I will vote for them…
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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