One of the nicest surprises I had in Italy was to find so many similarities between the shops in the ancient towns we visited and the shops along Fourth Street in Berkeley, where Castle in the Air is. Of course, we don't have the luxury of being right down the street from the Pantheon like Natalizia's shop in Rome, pictured here. But philosophically and socially there is a lot to compare.
The Italian shops tended to be clustered together in warrens, shopping districts that were destinations in and of themselves. These parts of town had played host to merchants and buyers for centuries -- if the streets could talk, what stories they'd tell!
In a post like this about visiting shops in foreign countries, on a weblog that I use to promote my online store, it might sound odd for me to tout the virtues of shopping locally. But it's something that I sincerely believe in, and the afternoons spent in the little shops in Italy really drove it home for me. What struck me more than anything else was how vital the shops were to creating a sense of community in their neighborhoods, in their towns. Fourth Street is like that for those of us who work down here in Berkeley, and for our regular customers. After spending my childhood watching Fourth Street grow, and following years of running my store, getting lunch at the take-out place next door, buying treats for my dog across the street, and seeing all the other workers and customers day in and day out, Fourth Street is as much my home as anywhere else. I know it's that way for so many people in so many little districts around the world, and I believe it's something we all should cherish and support when we do our shopping.