Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Sicily's 1st Department Store Opens

Today Palermo witnessed a historic event of sorts as Sicily's first "real" department store opened. Now I know this may seem a little silly to most of you. Yes, Sicily already had a few bona fide shopping malls. And a few "foreign" brands have shops in Sicily; in Palermo's Via Libertà shopping district there's Louis Vuiton, Hermes, Tommy Hilfiger, Timberland, Sephora and a few others. But the new Rinascente at the corner of Via Roma and Piazza San Domenico in central Palermo is the first actual department store of the type you'll find in New York or London.

Not that department stores, in themselves, represent the epitome of civilised living. I'm not suggesting anything of the kind. But it's nice to have choices. Convenience is not a bad thing, even if it's fast food: Sicily's first McDonald's opened about ten years ago, and a Burger King opened this week at Palermo's new shopping mall - the Forum in the infamous Brancaccio district. On a different level, the last few years have seen a number of sushi bars open in Palermo and Catania. The point is that until the late 1990s, when satellite television and the internet began to take off, Sicily was in many ways less than a friendly environment for most expatriates. Isolation would be a good description, and backward (though perhaps an unkind characterization) would not be entirely inappropriate. That has changed over the last decade.

The new store is a modern structure built onto part of a 19th century Baroque palazzo - bringing together Old and New Palermo.

Rinascente offers a number of "international" brands, including Burberry, Calvin Klein, Gant, Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren, which until now were not widely sold in Sicily. Of course, it's good to sell local products too, and Rinascente has those as well as a terrace restaurant specializing in Sicilian cuisine - and the store itself is right next to the historic Vucciria street market. One of the benefits of such a store is that a visitor in need of a particular item can find it easily without having to search an entire unfamiliar city. Oh yes, Rinascente, in stark contrast to most shops in Sicily, will be open continuously throughout the entire business day, from 9 in the morning until 9 in the evening - without the annoying afternoon closing from 1 until 4. Evolution.

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