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Italian businesses begin to keep doors open in August
08/24/2006 - Updated 11:06 AM ET

By Eric J. Lyman, Special for USA TODAY


ROME — Economic pressures and changing lifestyles have
more Italians staying home in August, once a languid, idle
month at the heart of one of Italy's and Europe's most cherished
traditions.

The traditional month-long August break is threatened by a drop
in discretionary income and new efforts by Italian corporations
to compete in the global economy.

"The buying power of Italian wages has been falling ever since
the introduction of the euro (in 2002), and so Italians are forced
to be less ambitious in their travel planning," says Roma Due
University economist and author Donatello Scarpatti.

Italian companies "are realizing that they can't close their doors
for a month every year and still compete with rivals from
North America or Asia, where that would never happen,"  
Scarpatti says. "An Italian company competing against an
American, Japanese or British rival can no longer say,
'Call back in September.' "

The shift is most obvious in the major cities such as Rome, Milan and Turin.

"Maybe I'm not thrilled about working year-round now, but I'm not thrilled about prices going up or getting older, and those things
happen anyway," says Anna Rosa Pagano, owner of a small coffee shop in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood. "What can I do about
it? This is what's happening, and we have to live with it."

Italian shops and other businesses began moving away from an August shutdown in 2002, according to Istat, the National Institute of
Statistics. Istat figures show more Italians stay home in August or vacation close by.

"Not only are more people working or staying closer to home in August, but more people are thinking that doing just that is OK," says
Maria Rossi, co-director of the polling and survey company Opinioni. "A little at a time, you can see the overall mentality changing."

Foreign tourists stand to benefit because they'll find more to do. This year, six major outdoor music series and three open-air film
festivals took place in Rome in August. Popular concert series scheduled for August have popped up in Milan, Turin and Naples.

According to Cinetel, which tracks box office figures at Italian movie theaters, the number of moviegoers has risen in August each of
the past four years, despite an overall annual decline in moviegoing.

Tourists find it easier to book themselves into popular Italian resort areas. "For the first time I can remember, I was not booked for all
of August before the first of the month," says Flavia Barbieri, who operates seven guesthouses along Italy's majestic Amalfi coast. "In
the end, I filled them all, but there are more foreigners than Italians this year, and more people calling at the last minute and actually
finding something." Barbieri says many of his Italian customers "are taking shorter vacations, or I don't hear from them at all."

Pagano, who has owned her coffee shop in Rome since 1984, says she used to close for 20 days each August. Two years ago, she
cut that to a week. This year, for the first time, she will be open all month, she says. Her son will run things while she slips away to the
beach for a few days.

Pagano is philosophical about the change. "They don't stop charging me rent just because it's August," she says. "I can no longer
afford to make the payments from the money I saved from the other months."
Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.
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