Stars come out to support famous Italian grocery store threatened with closure in London’s Soho | London

For decades, I Camisa deli has been at the heart of London’s West End community. Opened in 1929 by Italian brothers Ennio and Isidoro Camisa, the Soho institution sells specialty items including imported meats and cheeses, as well as handmade pastas and sauces and hot sandwiches on freshly baked bread. cooked.

The food has earned him numerous accolades, critical acclaim and cameos on television shows, including The Great British Bake Off and actor Stanley Tucci’s BBC travel show. But now, battered by the effects of the pandemic, I Camisa looks set to close for good nearly 100 years after it began operations.

News of the impending closure sparked an outpouring of support, with around 4,000 people signing a petition calling on Labour-led Westminster City Council to engage with Shaftesbury, the real estate investment trust that owns the building, to find a solution. Among those who would offer their support are broadcaster Stephen Fry, actress Miriam Margolyes, food critic Tom Parker Bowles and musician Tim Arnold.

Customers come to I Camisa as much to chat as to eat. “People will ask us the difference between panettone and pandoro, but they will also come to discuss,” explains Mattia Perlino, the assistant manager. “It feels like home.”

Over its lifetime it has passed through the hands of several owners, moved across the road from its original premises, witnessed the reigns of five monarchs and withstood a number of recessions. .

But following a drop in trade during the pandemic, business has not rebounded. Today, attendance is only 60% of what it was before, according to management. Many of the restaurants that Camisa supplied have also closed, while energy and product costs have risen. A decision by the landlord to bring rent back to pre-pandemic levels – £100,000 a year – has added to the pressures, leaving him unable to continue.

“You could see the numbers going down and we knew we couldn’t keep up with the costs,” said Cristina Onuta, the 23-year-old manager. “We are all devastated. People come here and they ask, ‘Why?’ And I say, ‘How long do you have?’ “

A delivery bike outside the store as a decoration
A larger rent bill is one of the factors that contributed to the store’s difficulties. Photography: Antonio Olmos / The Observer

There are about three weeks left to find a solution. If a new buyer is not found or another compromise cannot be found this month, the grocery store will close after Christmas. “We really don’t want to close because it’s historic and it’s a shame because it’s a beautiful place. But recently it has become a heavy burden,” said Gianni Segatta, one of the directors of Alivini, the current owner. “It’s painful to think you have to shut it down.”

Shaftesbury said: “Alivini and Shaftesbury continue to work together on potential retail options for I Camisa & Sons. While both appreciate the support expressed for the business, Alivini had made the initial decision to close his store due to a combination of factors including deteriorating turnover and rising costs, as well as a return to pre-pandemic rates and rent levels. We can confirm that our discussions are ongoing and we continue to listen to the views of the community. »

As she shopped for panettone and chocolate on Saturday, longtime customer Terry Brescia, a retired curator, said she would be heartbroken to see him go. “We don’t live in Soho – we come specifically – and we’ve been coming for about 30 years. It’s the only place we can get these wonderful things. It’s authentic, cozy, friendly, helpful and everything you want. You know? It’s the best Italian deli in London,” she said.

Stuart George, 48, another regular, has been frequenting the charcuterie for 18 years. There are hundreds of shops selling pasta and Bolognese sauce between his home in Vauxhall, southwest London, and Soho. But every Saturday around 9:30 a.m., he gets on his bike and rides about 11 miles to I Camisa. “I’ve wandered into other stores sometimes, but I don’t think they’re as good as here,” he said. “The food is fabulous and the staff are lovely. I don’t even have to ask for what I want. They see me locking up my bike, saying, ‘Here’s Stuart, we’re going to get his sauce.’ »

Peter Thompson, 80, a retired journalist who has been visiting since 1971, said: “We have many supermarkets but they are not the same at all. Even Waitrose isn’t that good. Without I Camisa, the region will be much poorer. It’s part of a trend: many freelancers are being driven away by rising rents, council tax, tariffs, and of course the price of running a business has gone up astronomically. »

The closure of I Camisa would make it the latest in a series of victims of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis. During a debate in the Westminster Chamber last week, Labor MP Catherine West said High Streets were ‘on their knees’. “Companies are asking for more support. We must act now if we are to secure the future of our small businesses,” she said.

For Soho, the loss would be “huge”, according to Tim Lord of the Soho Society, who said many other independent businesses had also closed. “There are very few things left in Soho that are unique to Soho. And if we lose them, we’ll just have a very dreary main street,” he said. ‘they always mention are small independent companies like Camisa. And there is no obvious way to protect them. It’s important because it’s about Soho’s history spanning decades.

Film producer Colin Vaines, a regular on I Camisa, puts it poetically. “The thing about Soho is you can keep dropping things, you can keep changing things, but one day you wake up and it’s the Big Yellow Taxi. They built the parking lot” , did he declare.

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