May 24, 2007
Italian Importing Co. Retrenches

Luigi Velo, stung by intensified competition and facing higher rent, is closing the Folsom Boulevard branch of his Italian Importing Co. and consolidating his operations at the company's longtime J Street location. Saturday will be the last day for the store at 5030 Folsom Blvd.

Business at the Folsom Boulevard site has plunged about a third since a branch of Trader Joe's opened next door in late 2003, says Velo. Cut-rate wines like Charles "Two Buck Chuck" Shaw, carried exclusively by Trader Joe's, and traffic congestion and competition for parking in the neighborhood especially discouraged business, Velo adds. He also believes that the expanding and diversifying inventory of foods at big-box stores such as Costco and Sam's Club has hurt his business. When faced with a hike in rent as his original 10-year lease expired, Velo decided to concentrate solely on the site at 1827 J St., where the company has been headquartered since 1969. "The little guy always ends up losing," says Velo.

Italian Importing Co. traces its heritage to Giacomo Velo, who bought Mazzuchi Bros. at 622 J St. in 1945, two years before the city's other landmark Italian delicatessen, Corti Brothers, was established by brothers Frank and Gino Corti when they purchased the Meda Bros. deli. The name Italian Importing Co., however, didn't appear in city phone directories until 1953. In 1990, Luigi Velo bought Italian Importing Co. from his brother Mario, who had taken over the store from their uncle Giacomo in 1967.

Luigi Velo will relocate the Italian Importing Co.'s catering branch to 1827 J St., which he operates with business partner Larry Otten. Dick Mercer's and Lori Martin's Experience Italy, a travel advisory company operating out of the Folsom Boulevard store, also will move to the J Street site.

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