The Shopping Mall on Wheels

Weekly markets are a way of life in Le Marche.

Multimedia

It’s Saturday morning and a sea of demanding customers wave their tickets at the Gramolini family working behind the counter of their mobile cheese and meat store. The scene is repeated at a line of other vendors stretching for hundreds of yards on the street outside the walls of Urbino, a famous Renaissance town in the Le Marche region of east-central Italy.

This mobile market arrived and set up by 7 a.m. They were gone by 3 p.m., and the street was quiet again.

Workers conversing with each other in order to remain organized and working efficiently.

Workers conversing with each other in order to remain organized and working efficiently.

Most small to medium-sized Italian cities are visited once a week by these rolling shopping centers. Many of the same vendors attend the same markets and station their goods at the same spot so that loyal customers can easily find their favorite vendors.

Urbino’s market features as many as 50 vendors selling clothes, shoes, coffee, kitchen appliances, pots, pans, seafood, meat, cheese, from stands opening from vans or small, RVs and small trucks.

Instead of going to the store, the store goes to you.

The Gramolini’s cheese and meat business has been part of this tradition since 1955 when Nazzareno Gramolini opened a cheese stand, and is now run by his children, Maurizio and Marisa, and their spouses. Over the decades it has grown to fill a 20-foot long RV customized for the job. At the press of a button the passenger side panel raises up, revealing a full line of cheeses and meats from across the region.

“Instead of going to the store, the store goes to you,” said Filippo Monaco, Marisa’s husband.

Their lives of the family are governed by a steady routine dictated by market locations. From Monday to Friday they rise at 5 a.m. from their home in Cattolica on the coast, about 50 miles east of the mountain town of Urbino. Their commute to work averages about one hour, including the drive to Urbino.

Filippo Monaco pleasantly asking the next customer in line what they would like at the Mobile Market In Urbino.

Filippo Monaco pleasantly asking the next customer in line what they would like at the Mobile Market In Urbino.

Their workday varies. Some markets are finished by 1 p.m., after which they pack up and head to another location. On Saturday, the Urbino market is over by 3 p.m. They usually get home around 7 p.m. Sundays are reserved for family and no work is done, which is typical in Italy.

The Gramolinis’ preparations include ordering cheese and meat products from local factories about once every three to four months, depending on how much they sell. Products are stored at home to re-stock the truck on a daily basis.

One of the most challenging aspects of their job is learning to work together in such a tight space. Their workspace in the transformed mobile home is about 12 feet in length and three feet wide, which means they have to twist around each other to reach and help customers. Meat is hanging from the ceiling, or resting with wheels of various sized cheeses in refrigerated, glass-fronted cabinets at the consumer’s eye-level.

We try to organize the work. For example if one of us is good at cutting the meat, then that would be their job.

Filippo said, “We try to organize the work. For example if one of us is good at cutting the meat, then that would be their job.”

But the team must remain organized and considerate while rushing to fill orders from scores of demanding customers in such a small space. Sometimes that is difficult. Marisa Gramolini said, “When working with family it is difficult to avoid arguments.”

Nephew Mattia hard at work at the slicer, filling an order for a customer.

Nephew Mattia hard at work at the slicer, filling an order for a customer.

Filippo said there are pros and cons about working with family members. “I like it because I can spend a lot of time with my family and I can improve our relationships,” he said. “It is great because there are families that are so busy and they do not even know each other.”

His only real complaint: The 5 a.m. wake up call.

Filippo and Marisa had hoped to pass the business on to their nephew Mattia Gramolini, who works with them. But as time has gone by their expectations for retirement seem less important as their love for the business. Now the thought of leaving what they love is giving them second thoughts

Filippo and Marisa say they wouldn’t change a thing about the careers they chose.

“When I met my wife she was already doing this job, so I took part in it… When you are young, you can easily be influenced by the one you love.”

Multimedia – Market Time Lapse

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About Teddy LaMotta

After coming to Urbino I learned that not all of Europe hates the U.S.A, that people love it. After the first few days of receiving negative glares I realized that they are not all trying to avoid me, but many wish to be friends. As human beings we tend to stick to those we relate with, and in this case, Americans stuck together with Americans. Because of the large number of us, resulting in the lack of friendship with Italians. Once you break into a smaller group, the Italians no longer feel timid and try to be your friends. I came to Urbino to not only experience the culture and learn from the best, but to interact with the culture. Learning from these teachers have been amazing, I go to a small Liberal Arts school that lacks a direct focus in the world of journalism, and the classes we have had have helped me direct my story telling abilities. I will miss this place, but at least I have made so many friends.