A half-ass report of Rome’s DIY business scene

11 Jan

It’s all about handmade goods, all-in-the-family businesses, and keeping money in the old country

By Amy Schroeder

I was in Italy for only 10 days, but from where I stood, Rome looked like a top-notch (albeit expensive—the American buck’s worth a whopping 70 cents right now) place to run a do-it-yourself business.

The Roman mantra is quality over quantity, and in this olive-oil­-loving mecca of two-million-plus people, there is no need for speed. Unlike the infant that is America, in the two-thousand-and-a-half-year-old Rome, the concept of “to-go” is not only missing from the Italian vocab—it’s downright weird. Rome doesn’t do paper cups or Thermo mugs. But the city does urge you to nap after lunch, relish a three-hour dinner, and close your business on Sundays.

Do Romans sweat the small stuff? Nope. That’s for Americans in need of therapy. Italians massage their minds by savoring the simple things in life: wine, pizza, pasta, cheese, proscuitto, espresso, family (hell, you live with them until you’re married), and wine. And wine.

And, talk about supporting the arts. The Roman Catholic Church pretty much invented the concept of the artist-in-residence, starting with Michelangelo and the Gang. Too bad the Catholics no longer commission the work of creative geniuses, hooking them up with rock-star expense accounts. Perhaps the Catholic Come Home crew should kick off a Modern Renaissance Movement—it could make for quite the marketing campaign.

I digress.

One of the interesting things about the Roman urban landscape is that the government wastes no energy on removing graffiti from historical buildings and residences. After all, “it’s just punk-ass kids tagging the walls—not gangs,” a priest-in-training informed me.

So, about the DIY biz scene. The Romans probably don’t refer to themselves as “DIYers”—though, considering that I only know four Italian words, I’m probably not a go-to source. But, really, Romans don’t necessarily need a DIY movement—afterall, do-it-yourself runs in their blood.

To an outsider looking in, here’s what I noticed: The more family-owned or indie the establishment the better. Vintage shops are immaculately curated. Local is not only better for the environment and the economy, it’s the Italian way of life—Romans are born foodie activists.

The following photos don’t do the Roman creative small-business scene justice, but it’s the best I could do with my iPhone:


Somewhere near the Vatican, you can hook this up. The proprietor probably doesn’t have a proper license to rent motor vehicles, but he does own the tschotchke cart (á la Colosseum snow globes and pope sculptures) just to the left (not shown).


Though there’s nothing innovative about aperitivos (the appetizers and drinks Italians enjoy before moving onto dinner), this bar gives the in-between meal a twist. The main draw of Freni e Frizioni (Via del Politeama, 4-6, in the Trastevere neighborhood) that entices the Italian indie set is a smorgasboard of complimentary hummus, beans, and bread. Between the hours of 6–9 p.m., everyone else in Roma is dishing out, say, 30 Euros for a coupla drinks, cheese, and proscuitto. Here, you can score two glasses of Prosecco and all-you-can-eat carbs for about 15 Euros. Oh, also, the bar operates from left to right—first pay the cashier and then get in line to pick up your order.


My iPhone camera doesn’t do this jewelry any favors. Nor does the company’s Web site. In any event, Nicotra di S. Giacomo necklaces, bracelets, and earrings are handwoven gold, silver, and silk. Reviving an old-school process, this is a must-see for handmade jewelry lovers.


While I’m not personally a fan of chestnuts (they taste like potatoes to me), they’re a big hit in Roma.


One Response to “A half-ass report of Rome’s DIY business scene”

  1. treywb January 13, 2011 at 10:54 am #

    Great article Amy. Roma looks like an incredible place to visit and learn about culture.

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