by Rosa Alvarado.
An old wooden table inside a semi-dark room with a few pieces of thread, jewelry, and textiles, is what the clothing store used to be until Ada Valeri came along. Ada worked as a barista, later in a factory doing odd jobs. The owner of Il Corso Mercerie Intimo convinced Ada to buy the business with the understanding she would learn how to run the business.
After Ada bought the business, the previous owner trained her for only two days and then she was on her own. “I figured it out,” Ada proclaims. Now Ada and her daughter Paola Pantera own and maintain Merceria Intimo which is located on Corso XX Settembre #12, between Via Fonte del Duomo and Via Bonclerici, just east of the piazza.
It took Ada and Paola a few years to make repairs in the edifice, one year to get fully stocked, and two years to get customers.
Paola is proud to continue the family tradition. “Mom and I can no longer go out and look for a job, so it is best to maintain the business and continue good relationship with our loyal customers,” she explains.
Finding vendors willing to sell merchandise to a small business was difficult. “Big brands have exclusive contracts with special shops and boutiques and I purchase the merchandise from Max Mara Company, Italia brand, and China importation,” Paola reports. Today, the store is filled with men’s and women’s undergarments, threads, textiles, jewelry, trims, laces, buttons, swim suits, and a sewing machine in the back of the room for repairs.
Walking down the street, one might not tell the store exists because there is no name outside the store. Looking in the window, on one side of the room is a rack of women’s swimsuits. Above the swimsuits are pieces of jewelry. On the opposite side of the door, hang kitchen curtains, and men’s shirts.
During business hours, racks of clothing, trims and laces are on display outside of the store to attract customers. Inside there is a wall of colorful threads, rows of textiles, and packages of crochet ornaments. Next to the row of threads is a metal ladder used to hang rows of clothing covered in plastic bags.
The store has transformed over the years. In the 1970’s women’s dresses were hidden in boxes instead of displayed on racks. Today, boxes are no longer used and there are numerous steel racks with garments hanging in plastic bags all around the store. One is struck by how many items are stuffed in such a small space.
Paola is aware of the need for a bigger space. “Rent is much cheaper here than moving the business near the piazza,” she explains. All businesses on the block are owned by the Catholic Church, which is why rent is affordable. But affordability comes with a price. There is no water, bathroom, or heater. In the winter, the store stays closed most of the time because it is unbearable to work inside a room with no heater when there is two feet of snow outside.
The store is different from others in Cagli because they sell garments to men and women. “In previous years, women would go in the store to buy men’s underwear, now more men come into the shop to buy their own underwear,” Paola adds. In addition, customers bring garments for any type of repair.
Ada does not make or design clothing. She is known for making sewing repairs or adjustments like adding lace or trim, replacing buttons, and hemming. Custom made repairs make the store special.
Loyal customer Luana Vivani, a tall woman with short wavy hair wearing clear glasses, walks into the store with a smile on her face. Luana has shopped at the store for over 22 years. “My grocery store is right across the street so it makes it convenient for me to shop here,” she explains.
While Luana talks to Paola, two other customers arrive, one wanting to buy buttons, the other wanting a trim sewn on a garment. Customers go in and out throughout the day. Others stop by to say hello.
Mercerie Intimo is a small store with big creative ideas. Ada and Paola built a business with the intent to please their customers. Ada and Paola have loyal customers because over the years they worked hard to provide great customer service.