Tales From Abroad, Part 4

Italian gas stops provide real convenience

Editor's Note: While former CSP intern Ashley Dickens is spending some time abroad, she is providing some perspective of the c-store market in the cities and countries she'll be visiting. Watch CSP Daily News every two weeks for regular reports from Germany, Italy, Ireland and other European destinations. In this third installment, we get a look at retailing convenience in three major Italian cities.

VENICE, Italy -- Traveling alone through Italy allowed me the chance to do some exploring of convenience stores and gas stations. And while in the cities [image-nocss] residents and retailers were accustomed to tourists gathering around the main attractions, beyond those sites Italian was the only language spoken. It was here that most gas stations and convenience stores were located; therefore, the language barrier kept me from asking too many questions of the customers and store owners.

In beautiful Florence, the streets were teeming with motorcycles, all receiving their gas from little stations that reminded me of interstate rest stops. To explain, consumers need not diverge far from their route to get gas. To fill up, a motorists pulls into a small semi-circular bend right off the road and parks in front of the pump. Then an attendant fills up the gas tank. To pay, either the attendant changes cash or the driver swipes their credit card at the pump.

These stations included a very small box to house the attendant and three pumps: diesel, gasoline and unleaded. Beyond that, these gas stations sold little else. (Although I saw one station that sold one other product: sexual air fresheners.) Other than these gas stops, I was unable to locate a combination gas and convenience store such as we have in the States.

My second stop in Italy was Rome, which also had these wonderful little gas stops, the most common brand being Agip. I found these gas stops to be extremely efficient. In a large city that has been around for centuries and is adapting as best as possible, these small stops require minimum property and provide maximum convenience, for purchasing gasoline, anyway.

The lack of accompanying stores baffled me. In all of Europe, I have yet to find a gas station that sells the small necessities of cars. It seems odd that while driving through Europe, I might not be able to stop at a gas station and buy a quart of oil if I so need it.

My final destination in Italy was Venice. Venice, as one can imagine, does not have the need of gas pumps for cars, and I was unable to find the pumps for boats. So, I concentrated on the convenience stores, or tabaccherias. These stores sell a hodge-podge of goods from a large selection of children's toys to potato chips (Pringles provided a reminder of home) to fresh "to-go" pizzas. Often, these stores blend into their surroundings because as they displayed their wares many of them aimed at tourists outside much like street vendors.

Even though the tabaccherias were interesting because of their outside displays and variety of products, I consider my best find to be the gas stops of Florence and Rome. Perhaps I am developing a European attitude, but I feel that these gas stops are the way to go in large American cities. With the time constraints of businesspersons and need for gas, these stops seem to work like clockwork, with one exception. Perhaps drive-thru convenience stores could complete the semi-circle, making a roundabout that would "fill 'er up" and provide munchies or beverages for the commuter on-the-go.

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