Edinburgh is a city bursting with independent retailers. In recent times the city centre may have given way to many chains and branded stores - and many locals still lament the relatively recent sale of the iconic Princes Street department store Jenners (which for a time was the oldest family-owned department store in the UK) to its new ownership by the House of Fraser group - but local, independent merchants are likely to be hands-down favourites with locals.
One such local store has attained a reputation and a customer base which has seen fit to rank it among the best delicatessens not only in Scotland but in the UK as well. Near the top of Leith Walk, five minutes' walk past the eastern end of Princes Street, is the deceptively small shopfront of Valvona and Crolla, an Italian food and wine merchant that was established here in 1934. As they celebrate their 80th year in business, and still in the same building for all of those years, Valvona and Crolla (or V&C as locals sometimes call it) is well worth taking a stroll to visit whilst you're in the city.
Founded by two Italian immigrant families, the shop today trades internationally and is still family-run. Philip Contini is grandson of original co-proprietor Alfonso Crolla, and together with his wife Mary they manage the daily business of selling imported Italian meats, cheese, pasta, fruit and vegetables, as well as wine and a whole range of home and kitchen gifts and accessories. They bake their own bread in their local bakery premises, and at the back of the narrow, Aladdin's cave of a shop there is a restaurant and cafe serving high-quality meals, snacks and drinks. Snap up a copy of Mary's latest recipe book, or catch Philip performing with his Be Happy Band during the festival or on special occasions!
Combining the very best of Italian and Scottish produce, heritage and tradition, V&C makes for a tasty stop-off on a stroll around the city, or a convenient place to meet friends for a coffee.
The Scots-Italian tradition has become well established in Edinburgh, following the arrival of many immigrant families to Scotland during the early twentieth-century. Although introducing Scots to an eye-opening (and mouthwatering) selection of pasta, 'proper' ice cream and coffee, it wasn't always easy for such families and businesses, especially during the Second World War. Many Italian men were detained by the British authorities in response to Mussolini's involvement in the European conflict. Whilst some - such as Philip Contini's father Victor - were detained locally, his grandfather Alfonso Crolla was boarded on a ship destined for an internment camp in Canada. On the 2nd July 1940, that ship, the SS Andorra Star, was torpedoed by a German u-boat in the north Atlantic, and Alfonso Crolla was killed, along with an estimated 700 others.
Back in Edinburgh, the family business managed to recover from such tragedies and today is a thriving and forward-looking local business which trades all over Europe. V&C continues trading with their Scots-Italian heritage proudly to the fore, and can look forward to at least another eighty years as an independent family business.
Find Valvona and Crolla at 4 Elm Row, near the top of Leith Walk, or at www.ValvonaCrolla.co.uk
Edinburgh Expert Walking Tours is run by Gareth Davies, an adopted native of Edinburgh since 1998...