Near the roundabout at Borgo a Mozzano (passing, if you come from Bagni di Lucca, the lovely dinosaur-like Ponte della Maddalena built by order of Queen Matilda di Canossa over a thousand years ago), with roads leading south to Lucca, north to the Garfagnana and east to Bagni di Lucca and the Brennero road, is a relatively recent collection of buildings erected in a style faintly reminiscent of a new settlement on reclaimed former marshland in the Roman campagna as projected by the likes of Mussolini. The style is not too objectionable but it does look rather odd, like so many “centri commerciali” in these parts, set below a panorama of mountains, forests and stone-built houses.
The largest of these buildings makes up what many of us, including myself, consider a lifeline in terms of buying basic foodstuffs like flour, cat food (that’s for our cats, please!), milk, oil and so forth. It is occupied by Penny Market, a European discount supermarket chain of German origin, with over 2,800 stores in Europe (except, to-date, the UK) and one of the big four ”discount” together with Aldi, Lidl and Netto.
The first Penny Market in Italy was opened in Cremona in 1994 in partnership with EsseLunga from which it separated in 1999. From 2000 on it has expanded almost exponentially and currently has over three hundred stores in seventeen regions of this country which are served by six distribution centres.
One problem about shopping in Penny (no-one says it in full as in ”Penny market”, in the best Italian linguistic tradition whereby English terms get chopped in half: e.g., night-club here becomes “night”, self-service converts into “self” and basket-ball is “basket” – a case if there ever was one) is that often there are tempting “hardware” items that catch your eye. The other week, for example, I went into “Penny” to buy some cat-litter. I came out, however, with a neat little tablet (my first) that cost me just under Euros 100.
Be warned, however, not all Penny hardware items succeed in satisfying – the (north?) Korean vacuum cleaner for example got off to a good start but, in spite of cleaning the filters, is now spluttering badly. I am glad to report, however, that the tablet has been (so far) a great bargain buy, together with my semi-smart phone, my pressure cooker, my tent, my socks, my bedroom TV cum DVD player etc.
I must remember to stick to my shopping list next time!
Now, to further entice one into the magic world of Penny is the opportunity to collect picture cards illustrating the most amazing wild-life and natural features of the five continents from the Anaconda to the Zebu (one set of five for every ten euros spent). I have never quite been able to shake off my childhood habit of collecting stamps and tea cards and so have invested in an album to collect yet another exciting series. Already my mantelpiece is becoming inundated with duplicates so if anyone who is reading this and collects Penny Pianeta Terra cards is willing to swap do contact me!
Many will object that by always heading for the Penny I am helping to destroy the local corner shop, cause environmental damage by buying goods that may have a long transport chain, exploit over-worked staff and seriously damage local produce. Of course, I also go to open.-air farmers’ markets, specialist food shops and favourite bakeries. But does one really have to hunt out specialist shops for cat food or garbage disposal bags or Schweppes tonic?
There is a Penny card to go with the shopping experience. This does not gather points for you but gives discounts on certain items and, if you strike it lucky, will pay for your shopping free of charge. I have never had the experience of hitting the jackpot in this but, knowing my luck I bet it might happen to me just when the only item I’ve bought are cat sticks for Napoleon (the cat)!
Here are the details of the Penny discount if you’re interested:
55023 Borgo A Mozzano
Mon-Sat 8 am – 8:30 pm
Sun 8 am – 1:30 pm
Sun 4 pm – 8:30 pm
Best times to shop are lunchtimes during the week. Worst times are Saturday and Monday morning. After all, discount stores are not exactly noted for their fast check-out points!
And here are some of the special offers for this week.
If you are socially conscious you may donate some of the stuff bought to those less fortunate than you (or buy a lighter from one of the African “vucumprà” outside the doors)…