How One Essential Business in Italy is Weathering the COVID-19 Pandemic

While many small retail stores have shuttered for the duration of the global COVID-19 pandemic, other locations have been designated essential businesses and remain open to meet the needs of those in their communities. Tabaccheria Pellegrino, a tobacco shop and Wish Local participating store, is one such small business that continues to serve customers in these uncertain times. 

Located in Pescara, Italy, a coastal city on the Adriatic Sea, Tabaccheria Pellegrino has been family-owned and operated since 1962. Siblings Carla and Lino Pellegrino inherited the business from their mother in 1985 and sell tobacco products, lottery tickets, and mobile credit to locals. Pescara went into lockdown on March 9, 2020, and the Pellegrinos were informed their business was allowed to remain open as an essential service. Lino is grateful he can go out each day but feels the tremendous weight of the health risk these outings pose. “I am worried. In the event that I got sick, I know that I could be pose a threat to the health of my loved ones. Even though we adopted all of the precautionary measures, there’s always a risk.”

Since Italy has discontinued the lottery and other games that require individuals to linger inside shops, the Pellegrinos have had to adapt their business. They are selling more tobacco products than before, encouraging local residents to buy it in bulk to avoid more frequent outings. They also are seeing an increase in sales of bollettini postali. Citizens of Italy who do not have credit cards can pay their utility bills through the bollettini postali system, a program run by the postal service. During the current pandemic, locals are choosing to pay bollettini at local shops like Tabaccheria Pellegrino instead of at the post office. This is a win for both the store and public health. By avoiding long crowded lines at the post office, customers put themselves and others at a lower risk of contagion. Tabaccheria Pellegrino limits entry to only one customer at a time.

Before the pandemic, Tabaccheria Pellegrino was a Wish Local location, enjoying success as a pickup spot and taking advantage of the first wave of the Wish Wholesale program. “I had great results, selling the majority of the purchased items,” Pellegrino says. Lino estimates that 20% of Wish Local pickup customers went on to become regulars at their shop and that 40% of Wish shoppers bought from the store at the time of pick up. By advertising their Wish Local affiliation on social media using designs provided by Wish, the store felt a tangible boost in both foot traffic and sales. 

 In the face of uncertainty, Lino maintains his positive spirit by “thinking that all of this will be over soon, and [he’ll] be finally able to go out and keep [his] BACA mission.”  (Pellegrino is a longstanding member of BACA, an international nonprofit group that aims to prevent child abuse.) He also gives this advice to fellow Wish Local participating businesses, “Never get discouraged and think that all of this will be over soon if everybody does their part.”