Valletta has long been seen as a tourist hub for several obvious reasons, ranging from its stunning monuments and buildings, to the sheer number of restaurants and stores present.

This is backed up by the wide array of retailers that have been open for decades, with some establishments' roots stretching back to the 19th century. The capital has undoubtedly undergone a large number of aesthetic changes over the years, however many of its historic stores have either maintained their original appearance or have slightly refined it to stay aligned with their values.

Speaking to, Manuel Busuttil, the owner of Joseph Busuttil Handmade Maltese Lace, which has been open for more than a hundred years, said that the store’s façade has a “huge effect” in attracting customers to the shop.

Joseph Busuttil

Joseph Busuttil Handmade Lace / Deepshikha Sharma / Google Maps

“Some customers initially enter our store because of the beauty of the façade itself,” Mr Busuttil added.

Jean Bernard Galea, the owner of Victor Galea Haberdashery, located in St John Street, remarked that the store’s façade is a “bonus” since it “adds a lot to the store’s character”.

“People stop to take loads of photos of the façade, and they are encouraged by it to enter. Furthermore, the genre of our business complements it, so in our case, it is a plus point,” Mr Galea explained.

Johann Farrugia from Firm George Zammit, a store which has been open since 1888 and is commonly known as Tal-Hwawar, added that in the past, the size and appearance of a store didn’t really have an effect on encouraging people to enter.

“The shop has been here for a long time and people know it as a small shop in the corner, so it wouldn’t have made much of a difference had our façade been small or not. In the past, having such a small shop was the norm,” he continued.

Mr Farrugia added that while the façade has to be restored and kept up to date, it “has to always be done in a way that abides by the law to ensure that it fits with the surrounding area and its history”.

However, such restoration “requires huge expenses”, Mr Galea said, before calling for the Government and respective authorities to “offer some form of subsidy to assist such businesses to cover these costs and maintain the store’s beauty”.

“We left it [the store’s façade] as it was, and I think we should keep it that way,” Mr Busuttil said, before adding that “Valletta’s value today as a capital city is starting to drop because we are losing these historic and beautiful façades to more modern ones”.

When asked whether Valletta – and Malta as a whole – is starting to lose its identity given the rise in foreign and more modern retail chains, along with the closing of a number of older ones, the three store owners were in agreement that this is the case.

“Other establishments, particularly bars and restaurants, are pushing us away, and hence not giving us much reason to stay open as an old shop in Valletta. You end up feeling like one day you simply have to leave,” Mr Farrugia said.

Earlier this year, household goods store Caruana & Sons was forced to close after 85 years of operations due to the property’s landlord wanting the building back. The family-run business was the “last shop of its sort in Valletta”, as people are now more inclined to look for places outside the city to do their shopping.

Firm George Zammit

Firm George Zammit / Tripadvisor

Mr Busuttil remarked that Malta is starting to lose the identity it is known for, with some tourists that visit the store even telling him that “these types of shops are not that common anymore”.

While Mr Galea acknowledged that Malta losing its identity allows for such stores to remain popular as isolated spots of the country’s rich culture, he added that “Valletta is becoming another Paceville due to lots of cafés and restaurants”.

“It is a pity given Valletta’s rich history, but this is a problem that a number of other European cities are facing, not just those in Malta,” he continued.

To make it even worse, Mr Farrugia added that older stores in Valletta have been given "little to no support" from authorities to stay open. “In the past, nobody seemed to take enough care to keep us and other small shops alive, not providing us with the necessary help. All of a sudden, we are the least shops present in Valletta,” he said.

“In fact, we are considering closing our shop because bars and restaurants are taking the place of everything, and the competition with larger stores from both inside and outside the city is becoming tougher and tougher,” Mr Farrugia added.

However, he concluded by saying that given the rich history of the items used at Tal-Hwawar and other iconic shops across the capital, they can be used for other means, “possibly as a museum of some old tools from our craft”, as after all, such items have “great historical value and we’ve been open for a very long time”.

Main Image:

Victor Galea Haberdashery / Facebook

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Written By

Fabrizio Tabone

Fabrizio has a passion for the economy and technology, especially when it comes to innovation. Aside from this, he also has a passion for football and movies, and so you will often find him either with a ball to his feet or at the cinema checking out the latest releases.