Madeira has a long tradition of embroidery so needle, thread, yarn and scissors are an important part of any household. 20 years back, when we were getting only our most basic foodstuffs and not much else in one of the tiny We-Have-Everything-Shops, where would we find the diversity of buttons, yarns and fabrics to clothe your kids, not to mention the ingredients for a special Carnival costume? Answer: haberdashery shops always existed, hidden in some corner on four or five sqm, with the goods being stacked up to the low ceiling in tattered old shoe boxes, carefully labelled or simply identified by the button stitched on to the top. The variety is amazing: hooks, zippers, laces, patches, and plenty of wool are available in all colors, widths and sizes. The shops are the strong domain of female family members, down from Granny to the granddaughter. And all of them know where the essential and decorative items are to be found: one question, and up comes the right box, from the left corner behind the butt, or right down at the knee.
Nowadays, they also offer much more than in the old times, such as super-stretch silicone thread to string up pearls, hair bands, and do-it-yourself petit point sets, also patches for the son’s much belaboured jeans. One shop is specialized in producing any length of zipper in the desired color in about five minutes. Add to this a seamstress with a gracefully aged sewing machine in a tiny back room, supplying the cute, almost full-body aprons for the kindergarten crowds, and we have a full service.
The work is very labor intensive; margins are not high but with a low rent, the profit can be a nice add-on to a family’s income. Even with competition from tailoring chains, haberdasheries will survive, based on their originality, choice of goods and service. One such shop, with around 150 years of existence is Loja Gonzalez in Rua dos Ferreiros, 30, part of a group of traditional shops the City Hall is supporting.