Protests: 1400 Firms Close in Florence

Shops closed and few people on the street in downtown Florence

Piazza Signoria was filled with to the brim on March 26 with 5,000 participants in a demonstration challenging what they see as the inadequate economic impact payments recently approved by the Italian government.  They shared the space with 2,700 parked cars, taxis, vans, moped and bicycles.  The protesters comprised taxi drivers (who report that a drop in business of 80 – 90%), owners and managers of temporarily closed hotels, artisans, small, independent business owners, shop and restaurant proprietors.

Since March 2020, local businesses in Florence and Tuscany haven’t been the same. The COVID-19 emergency has caused a sharp drop in revenues and shops, stores, restaurants and other types of firms haven’t been able to recover all the losses to this day.  Some economic impact payments arrived in 2020 that benefited restaurant owners but most of other local businesses like artisans and those in the tourism sector protest that they’ve been left out.

Around 1,400 firms have closed permanently and 7,500 are on the way to shutting down for good.  One in five employees risk losing their jobs once the moratorium on layoffs comes to an end. Even though businesses have gotten some economic impact payments, it hasn’t been enough for many to survive in the face of a 67% decrease in profits.

In an effort to help at least bars and restaurants, the city of Florence has just extended the exemption from paying city taxes through December 2021 for setting up tables on sidewalks outside, allowing for more space to socially distance clients.

Overall, an estimated 60% less restaurants and 41% fewer shops are open.  Fairs and markets, which are fundamental for craftspeople, have been prohibited since October 2020.  This has also affected the artisan revenues which have dropped 60% since 2019. Around 25% of artisans have not received any economic impact payments either and they’ve been protesting in the streets of Florence for more support from the government.

Obviously, tourism is not happening with travel restrictions so local businesses and artisans that depended on that market have been especially hard hit.  Changes of zone that arrived the second wave of contagions last fall have not been beneficial for local businesses which prepare to be open and get back on their feet but sooner than expected are called to shut down again with restrictions.  In October 2020, Tuscany was initially classified as an orange zone but was upgraded to red in November and December with the the closure of all retail businesses and restaurants only providing delivery or take out.  Things started to improve in 2021, when Tuscany started the year in the the yellow zone with only the closure of gyms and theater mandated and sit-down service allowed in cafés and restaurants up to 6 pm.  Before February 14, restaurants had a lot of reservations for Valentine’s Day lunch but with the change from yellow to orange zone, restaurants had to cancel reservations and go back take-out and delivery orders.

Artisans and other local businesses owners who have been enormously affected by the pandemic took part in an earlier protest in late February to voice their concerns about the lack of support they are receiving and how they haven’t received any help from the government like some restaurant owners have.  Since the numbers are stable, there is hope that Florence and Tuscany can stay in the in the orange zone, without suffering the even more negative economic consequences that come with being in the red zone.

Hopefully things will get better after COVID numbers start to decrease thanks to vaccination but the real effect of the pandemic we will see it once the country is open for business. The question is: how long can local businesses hold out before going under?   (titiana lopez)

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