Rome

New pope could mean more business for street vendors

Non-European pope would be a bigger seller

New pope could mean more business for street vendors

(by Emanuela De Crescenzo). Rome, March 13 - As Catholic pilgrims, the international media, and the curious all mix in St. Peter's Square, watching for white smoke from the Vatican announcing a new pope, some street vendors say they are just as interested. A new pope, especially someone from outside Europe who will generate a buzz of new interest and activity, could be very good for business, vendors say. And with the recession that has been gripping much of the world but hitting Italy especially hard, these micro-businesspeople need all of the help they can get. The conclave that began Tuesday inside the Sistine Chapel adjacent to St. Peter's Basilica - the spiritual home of the Catholic Church and the centre of the election of a new pontiff - has brought in thousands of people from around the world. That should be good for these vendors, who are offering every kind of souvenir related to the Catholic church generally, and Vatican City specifically. But vendors say business has fallen dramatically as most visitors are now waiting to see who the next pope will be, and only then perhaps buy some memorabilia with the new pontiff's image. "Since this morning, we are selling only water. People don't even stop to buy a key chain," said a 25-year-old street vendor walking in Piazza Pio XII, who gave his name only as Emanuele. Store owners and restaurants are also feeling the pinch, saying that unlike the periods around previous conclaves, visitors to Rome this year are being very careful with their spending. Still, like the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, many of the vendors are interested in who the new pontiff will be and where he will come from. Apart from nationality, many say their model of a good pope was John Paul II: a man with charisma, who reached out and touched people of all ages, from all walks of life and all nationalities. They also report that he was good for business; John Paul's popularity meant that he moved merchandise. In fact, they say, visitors to the Vatican soaked up souvenir items connected with John Paul to a greater extent than anything connected with Pope Emeritus Benedict, whose retirement on February 28 shocked the world and triggered the current conclave. Vendors say that within 24 hours of a new pope being elected to replace Benedict, a whole new line of souvenirs - from candles to rosaries and religious medallions - will be available, bearing the image of the next leader of the Catholic church. Even small paintings with the image of the new pope will be available very quickly, vendors say, although more complex items such as calendars and books will take longer to produce. "We are not suppliers, so I think we will have to wait for representatives to come with new items in about 10 days," says Giorgia, 47, who works in a shop on the corner of Via della Conciliazione. Vincenzo, who also has a shop, and his wife both think that a non-European pope would be a welcome change of image for the Catholic church. Someone from a different sort of background, and a different part of the world could be "much more engaging" and therefore, more marketable than the long stream of European pontiffs. Luigi, another shop owner, agrees. "I am rooting for an African pope because I think that an Italian pope...would be, commercially, a disaster".

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