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Italy's COVID-era tourism drop leaves artisans struggling for customers

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They have already been squeezed by mass and low-cost production emulating what they do, minus the personal touch. Now they have a pandemic robbing them of people with purchasing power and tourists wanting to bring home a piece of Florence or Venice or Rome.

It is not just the hotel and restaurant industry that has been devastated by the lack of visitors to Italy during the coronavirus crisis. This country's proud artisan community is struggling to stay afloat, too.

According to Neri Torrigiani, who organizes a grand show of artisans and their work called Artigianato e Palazzo in the Corsini Gardens and Palace in Florence each year, as many as 9,000 artisans have signed up for government unemployment in this period and those payments have lagged as much as four months behind. This leaves many in professions Italians already consider a precious endangered species in a doubly precarious position.

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"It's been an occasion for thinking about new creations," jeweler Alessandro Penko told Fox News. It seems fitting a silversmith would capture a silver lining. Part of a dying breed of trades handed down in families, Penko works with his parents recreating the art, designs and jewelry of Florence. Whether it's picking flowers out of a Botticelli painting and turning them into an intricate bracelet or reimagining adornments of the Renaissance for Dolce and Gabbana to use in their shows, he says in a place like Florence there is no dearth of inspiration.

"Every morning that I walk around the Cathedral of Florence before arriving here in the workshop I see some new details," he said.

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Paolo Penko, who founded the workshop with his wife Beatrice, is pleased that his sons Alessandro and Riccardo have chosen to carry on a family tradition and thinks it bodes well for the future of craft.

"It fills me with pride," he told Fox News. "And it's an important sign that many young people love this line of work and dream of taking a voyage in the world of artisan work. Also, I am proud that my sons are doing their work with the passion and love that made the city great… and its artisans great. Florentine artisans are recognized the world over."

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Italy, together with France, is ground zero for luxury goods and fashion. Each time a Gucci show gets canceled or a season scaled down, there are craftspeople and fabric makers let down, too.

Whether it is small jewelry houses or embroiderers for luxury fashion or factories of Murano glass beads in Venice, those who are proud of the "Made in Italy" label are hoping that the successive waves of this pandemic will be followed by a real artistic renaissance that will remind the world why handcrafted goods are must-have items. Torrigiani, for one, is planning to hold his artisan show in Florence again this fall.

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