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Lisbon preserves historical shops as contemporary influences take hold

Can the traditional mom-and-pop shops survive in a world accustomed to convenience? Lisbon seems to think so

Rossio Square in Lisbon was once the hub of milliners and hat makers.

Lisbon, one of Europe's ancient cities, is dotted with single-item or specialty stores – grocers, wine shops, cobblers, bars jammed with vintage collectables, a kiosk selling handmade leather gloves, one that offers just packets of seeds and legumes. Some are more than 200 years old, and many boast beautifully maintained façades of intricate azulejos (ceramic tiles) and interiors that showcase the craftsmanship of eras long gone.

Curiously, they survive in a city increasingly catering to contemporary society, with gin bars, Michelin-starred restaurants and high-tech museums and galleries. That's partly because, in 2015, the city-run conservation and restoration project Lojas com Historia (Stores with a Story) was set up to assist old stores in danger of closing. Project co-ordinator Sofia Pereira says a lack of economic viability, no heirs to run the stores and fewer rent-control laws all make it hard for such shops to survive. Losing them, Pereira says, would be akin to losing a part of the city's identity. "This is what makes Lisbon so culturally rich," she says.

Through the painstaking process of combing through archives and analyzing documentation with the store owners, researchers from Lisbon University's Faculty of Fine Arts have worked with volunteers to so far help 82 shops achieve official Lojas com Historia status. The benefits include rent control and access to a €250,000 ($390,5700) fund to help refurbish façades and interiors in accordance with original designs.

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Paulo Ferrero, co-founder of the citizen-run Circulo das Lojas de Caracter e Tradicao de Lisboa (Circle of Traditional and Characterful Shops, a precursor and partial inspiration for the city-run project), says it's possible for the old stores to thrive even as Lisbon develops into a tech and startup hub. "It's true, many will die a natural death. But doing nothing to preserve the stores is robbing our future generations of their history," he says.

Here's our pick of five Lojas com Historia spots in central Lisbon.

Soares & Rebelo

This seed store has been in the same location since 1935.

The last of its kind, this seed store with candy-striped white-and-pistachio-green awnings, has been in the same location since 1935, next to what was once the Praca da Figueira market. The market is now a bustling public square with a constant stream of yellow hop-on-hop-off buses and electric tuk-tuks ferrying tourists around the city. For years, farmers would stock up here. Dedicated to biodiversity, you can find popular local vegetable seeds such as a thick-stalked cabbage known as "the glory of Portugal," herbs and dried legumes for cooking.

"We have customers who have been coming with their grandparents, and they still support us. They know our quality. And the tourists, they come here now," says Margarida Silva Opa, a server.

Rua do Amparo 2, Praca da Figueira; Tel: (+351) 21 347 0514; soaresrebelo.pt

Luvaria Ullises

Luvaria Ullises's gloves are handmade. Ishay Govender-YPMA/The Globe and Mail

Customers line up at this two-person kiosk to purchase the perfect pair of handmade gloves. It involves a ritual in which each finger of the glove is gently stretched and dusted with talcum powder, then the customer's hand is fitted so adjustments can be made. Established in 1925 by Joaquim Rodrigues Simoes, the gloves are fitted by experienced clerks such as Paula Alexandre, who says: "Our customers are mainly tourists and they visit us all year. We are the specialists and only glove shop in Lisbon – for 93 years." It's the tradition and personal service that their clients are after, Alexandre says. She advises that the lambskin is a softer glove and the calfskin more durable. The founder's family still owns the store and has no desire to expand to larger premises.

Rua do Carmo 87-A, Chiado; Tel: (+351) 21 342 0295; luvariaulisses.com

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Hospital de Bonecas

For Manuela Cutileiro and the three generations before her who have been tending to "injured" dolls and toys from Portugal and around the world, it's a calling. There's no money to be made, Cutileiro says, but years of practical and theoretical training from the Fundacao Ricardo Espirito, a foundation established to preserve the arts, are required to become a doll surgeon, and this hospital for dolls in the Baixa district has three qualified doctors. For €2, you can visit the museum upstairs with a collection of dolls through the ages, from expensive German porcelain ones in elaborate costumes to modern-day Kewpie and Barbie dolls. (You can also purchase dolls and accessories downstairs.) While its workers are used to people calling the place "creepy" (some dolls have missing eyes and limbs), Cutileiro sees the work as essential. They've repaired the dolls of children fleeing war-torn countries – often the only reminder of home – and those passed down many generations in a single family. "The Portuguese are very sentimental. And practical, too," she adds.

Praca da Figueira; 7, Baixa; Tel: (+351) 21 342 8574; hospitaldebonecas.com

Chapelaria Azevedo Rua

A custom hat can be made in a few days at Chapelaria Azevedo Rua.

Established in 1886, Chapelaria Azevedo Rua is situated on Rossio Square, once the hub of milliners and hat makers. Still family-owned (founder Manuel Aquino de Azevedo was once a winemaker), you can buy an exquisite ready-made summer or winter hat or have one custom made in a few days. Fittings can take a while, so you may have to wait for your turn. The store also specializes in handcrafted walking sticks, umbrellas and handkerchiefs to complete the fanciful look.

Praca D. Pedro IV 73; Tel: (+351) 21 342 7511

Manteigaria Silva

Manteigaria Silva is a high-end grocer.

Established in 1890, Manteigaria Silva, once a butter house and later an abattoir, has been a high-end grocer for the past 40 years, serving the very best Portuguese charcuterie, cheeses, tinned fish, wines and bacalhau (salt cod). Jacinta Domingos, who has been working here for 13 years, says: "We don't really feel the competition from the supermarkets because we sell specialist products. Some of the hams and cheese are made for us, and our clients know." Try to go before the morning and afternoon tourist groups jam up the tiny store. They wrap items well for travel.

Rua Dom Antao de Almada 1, C/D, 1100-197; Tel: (+351) 21 342 49 05; manteigariasilva.pt

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