pictures and text by Mishaela Nester
Surviving World War 2 and a great flood in 1966, one of the oldest shops in Florence is still running today. For 70 years the same owner, Mario Baracchi has kept the Photography and Optics business going and more than just the shop’s reputation as the oldest in Florence, but the man himself brings curious customers from all over the world. While walking along the busy road Via Dei Pecori starring at the beautiful marble of the Duomo, the glamour of the new stores along the street with their fancy displays and expensive merchandise in the windows, suddenly a glass display of vintage cameras appears catching the attention of tourists and camera lovers. Glancing up at an old sign “Kodak Films” Dei Ottica E Fotografia, the juxtaposition of the old and the new brings further curiosity to go inside. The small shop is very cluttered, with personal pictures and vintage photographs of Florence, a sort of time capsule.
Walking in, an older gentleman came out from the back room, “Buonasera.” He responded in perfect English “What can I help you with?”. The shop was quiet and the walls were busy with images hung on the walls. “I’m looking for a certain film,” he smiled and talked about how not many people use film now days. He began to tell the history of his time working there, his first and only job
In 1910 the store was opened by two siblings, at the age of 14 Mario came to work for 7 cents a day, earning the equivalent of 200 euro per month. After seeing how dedicated Mario was, the siblings sold the shop to him in 1943. The war was the most enduring time to have a shop open. “I remember falling to the floor from the bombs and dust filling the air, when I looked up at the sky and saw the bombs explode nearby. A customer came with me downstairs in the shelter until everything became quiet,” Mario explained vividly. Business was very busy at that time, many German soldiers needed their glasses repaired. Usually, very easy customers, although one German captain remains the most unpleasant customer Mario has ever had. “Under one rare circumstance I had not finished the captain’s glasses, when he came into the shop the next morning he grabbed me by the shirt and threatened me.” Mario reenacted the incident as if it was happening that very moment. “Other than the moment with the captain the Germans were very good customers.”The great flood left most of Florence underwater on November the 4th, 1966, “The shop was completely underwater and the government only gave enough money to dry the walls.” Mario then showed a book of photographs and some old postcards he had received from concerned family. Walking to one wall Mario turned and said, “The water was up to here and everything was destroyed.”
When entering the shop many family photographs cover the walls. Mario walked over to the black and white picture of a woman and held it in his hand tenderly, “Have I told you about my great love story?” Married for 32 years and losing his beautiful wife to cancer, the love still remains in Mario’s eyes as he spoke about his beloved wife. “Our honeymoon lasted her entire life, I only saw her as the beautiful 20 year old I fell in love with, even as the years aged us both.”
“I mostly recognize my Florentine customers by their glasses, I remember glasses more than faces or names.” The shop, and all is personality, is at risk of closing its doors, yet there is talk about a buy out. Mario turned to look out the window, “My life has always been revolved around this shop, I don’t know what I would do without it.” For photography lovers still using film “Dei Ottica e Fotografia” is one of the best places to get all the essentials for film photography, including low costs for films and filters. Mario looks at the pictures on the walls, “My kids both have very good jobs and are very successful, although I hope to continue running this place until I die, I’m not sure if it’s possible.”
Mario looks at the pictures on the walls, “My kids both have very good jobs and are very successful, although I hope to continue running this place until I die, I’m not sure if it’s possible.”