Text by Steven Vickers
Once upon a time, Lisbon was divided into artisan sections where you’d find clusters of shops selling one thing, from sapateiros (shoemakers) to luveiros (glovemakers). While many have died out, you’ll still find plenty of shops selling a single item, from tinned sardines to handmade candles, many of which haven’t changed in more than 100 years. And the folk coming to shop in western Europe’s cheapest capital are rediscovering these quaint gems.
Take Chapelaria Azevedo Rua, a wood-panelled hat shop on the corner of Lisbon’s main square, owned by Pedro Fonseca. Fonseca’s great-great-grandfather opened the shop in 1886, when a bad crop forced him to give up producing wine. At first, it catered only to men, until the rise of haute couture in the early 20th century, when women suddenly wanted elaborate hats.
“We’ve adapted, but the shop has stayed the same,” says Fonseca of the rows of trilbies and elegant flapper-style hats in slightly fusty wooden cabinets. “There was a time when it was only older folk buying hats, but now it’s fashionable again and we get all ages coming in, from across the world as far afield as Brazil.”
It’s a similar story at Luvaria Ulisses, a bespoke glovemaker a few streets away among the Baixa’s glitzy fashion stores. It’s managed to stay afloat since 1925, despite the fact that the wardrobe-sized shop only has space for two or three customers at a time “Anything you want, we can make it,” says sharp-suited owner Carlos Carvalho, who has worked here for 39 years. “If someone has a pair of our gloves and they wear them out, we repair them for free – for the whole life of the gloves.” It may sound like a bad business model, but Carvalho says longevity is part of the appeal. “Since 1925, hardly a thing has changed,” he said. “People value that and they value real service.”
There’s more where that came from, such as the church-like Caza das Vellas Loreto, which has been selling handmade candles since 1789, or Conserveira de Lisboa, where Lisboetas have gone to buy hand-wrapped tinned sardines since 1930.
These old shops have also inspired a new generation of shopkeepers with an eye on the past: A Outra Face da Lua (The Other Side of the Moon), a gorgeous vintage store where the wooden chests are stuffed with silver trinkets; or A Vida Portuguesa, a beautifully curated selection of classic Portuguese soap and make-up brands brands squeezed into an old cosmetics factory. It’s inspired by saudade, the Portuguese word that roughly translates as “nostalgic longing” – which seems to be alive and well in Lisbon.