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Rome has been a thriving centre for design and cosmopolitan shopping since ancient times. In the heyday of the Empire the finest craftsmen were drawn to Rome, and artifacts and produce of all kinds, including gold, furs, wine and slaves, were imported from far-flung corners of the Empire to service the needs of the wealthy Roman population. Shopping in Rome today in many ways reflects this diverse tradition. Italian designers have an international reputation for their luxuriously chic style in fashion, knitwear and leather goods (especially shoes and handbags) as well as in interior design, fabrics, ceramics and glass. The artisan-craftsman tradition is strong and the love of good design filters through into the smallest items. Rome is not a city for bargains (although it is often better value than Florence or Milan), but the joys of window shopping here will offer plenty of compensation.


Leather goods of all kinds, including shoes and bags, are a strong point. Ready-towear Italian designer clothes are not cheap, but they are certainly less expensive than in other countries. Armani jeans are a good example You are also likely to find designer lighting fixtures, for example, at lower prices here. Both modern and traditional Italian ceramics and handicrafts can be very beautifully made and, if you have time to wander around the back streets, really unusual and individual gifts can often be found.


Bargain hunters may like to visit Rome during sale time (saldi), from mid-July to midSeptember and the period from just before Christmas to the first week in March. Top designers  slash prices by half, but their clothes are still very expensive even then. Good bargains can be found in the young designer-wear shops and good-quality large shoe sizes are sold off very cheaply (most Italians have small feet). In general, though, sales in Rome tend to offer moderate rather than huge discounts

Both the original and the sale price should be quoted on each reduced item. Liquidazioni (closing-down sales) are usually genuine and can sometimes be worth investigating. However, other signs in shop windows such as vendite promozionali (special introductory prices) and sconti (discounts) are often only lures to get you into the shop. The sign on the door saying entrata libera means “browsers welcome”.


Shops are generally open from 9am to 1pm and from 3.30pm to 7.30pm (4pm to 8pm in the summer months). Some of the shops in the centre stay open all day from 10am to 7.30pm. Most shops are closed on Sunday (except immediately before Christmas). Shops are also closed on Monday morning, apart from most food stores, which close on Thursday afternoons in winter and Saturday afternoons in high summer. August brings the city to a virtual standstill as Roman families escape the heat to the sea or the mountains, but this is gradually changing, with Romans taking shorter summer holidays. Most shops close for at least 2 weeks around 15 August, the national holiday


Apart from a few department stores, most Roman shops are small, specializing in just one field. Browsing at leisure may at first seem daunting if you are used to large shopping centres. Customers will almost always receive better attention if they dress smartly – the emphasis on fare una bella figura (making a good impression) is taken seriously. Sizes are not always uniform, so it is wise to try clothes on if possible before buying, since refunds and exchanges are not always given.


Most shops now accept all the major credit cards, whose signs are displayed on the shop window. Some will also accept foreign currency, though the exchange rate may not be good. When you make a purchase you are bound by Italian law to leave the shop with a scontrino fiscale (receipt). You can try asking for a discount if paying cash and you may be lucky, though many shops have a prezzi fissi (fixed prices) sign


Value Added Tax – VAT (IVA in Italy) – ranges from 12 per cent on clothing to 35 per cent on luxury items such as jewellery and furs. Marked or advertised prices normally include the IVA. It is possible for non-European Union residents to obtain an IVA refund for individual purchases that exceed about 160 euros, but be prepared for a long and bureaucratic process. The simplest method is to shop at a place displaying the “Euro Free Tax” sign. Present your passport when you make your purchase, and fill in a form from the shop; the shop then deducts the IVA, gives you a copy of the form, and sends their copy to the Euro Free Tax Organization in Milan which will then deal with the paperwork. If you wish to buy something from a shop which is not part of the “Euro Free Tax” scheme, you must get the Italian customs to stamp the vendor’s receipt at your departure, showing them the purchased article, and then post the stamped receipt back to the shop, who should then send you a refund.


Department stores, known as grandi magazzini, are few and far between in Rome, but they tend to have longer opening hours than smaller shops. La Rinascente and Coin are good for ready-to-wear clothes, both for men and women, household linens and haberdashery, and have well-stocked perfume counters. The Oviesse and Upim chain stores offer moderately priced mediumquality clothes and a variety of household goods. Another alternative for the zealous shopper is to head for one of Rome’s shopping malls. Cinecittà Due Centro Commerciale, built in 1988, offers around 100 shops plus bars, banks and restaurants within easy reach of the centre by Metro (line A to Cinecittà).


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