St Albans Italian deli owner launches fight against housing scheme

Buongiorno Italia owner Tony Picciuto outside his delicatessen which his landlord wants to convert i

Buongiorno Italia owner Tony Picciuto outside his delicatessen which his landlord wants to convert into a residential property - Credit: Archant

The owner of a popular Italian delicatessen may be forced to dramatically downsize his award-winning shop if a scheme to turn part of it into a house comes to fruition.

Customers are fuming at revelations of a change of use scheme lodged by the landlord of one-half of Buongiorno Italia on Lattimore Road.

Delicatessen owner Tony Picciuto admits the “wind has been taken out of my sails” after landlord Alan Oakley asked St Albans district council to approve his bid to turn part of his shop into an extended home.

Patrons of the independent store, where he has been based for about 25 years, have signalled their support of Tony’s fight against the scheme.

Tony said the change of use application was initiated after the death of his former landlady who had lived behind and above his shop, and with whom agreements had been made verbally.

His refurbished delicatessen is the result of an expansion of the shop he leases into a neighbouring one, which he owns.

One half, where dry goods are now sold, was the part he began operating from decades ago.

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But four years ago he bought outright the neighbouring shop and expanded by joining the two together, with permission from his former landlady.

That project won Buongiorno Italia a plaque from St Albans Civic Society, which praised the Picciuto family for expanding “at a time when it has been difficult for small retailers”.

Tony recently asked Alan for a new lease at current market rates and then offered to buy the property at current market value, both of which he has apparently refused.

Alan’s recently lodged scheme includes a proposed two-storey rear extension and rear basement extension.

Tony’s concern is that as his lease for that half expires in July next year, should the council approve the scheme he will be forced to downsize.

He said: “The landlord has every right to do what he is doing, but I would like the council to look at the whole picture. This is a really good place for a shop for people who live around here, and it has been a shop since Victorian times.

“I’m not thinking of selling. But I had the opportunity to get bigger and I don’t want the shop to become smaller again. I don’t want to go backwards.

“I feel so blessed because we have the best customers in the world, and it’s a lovely atmosphere in the delicatessen. I have to fight.”

More than 56,000 people have viewed a letter Tony has posted about the scheme on the shop’s Facebook page, with customers expressing their support.

Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Sandy Walkington said: “When Tony’s parents ran Franco’s just up the road, I shopped there 30 years ago. Tony did the deliveries then. It was great to see him keeping the tradition by opening Buongiorno Italia in the same row of shops. Too many family retail businesses have already closed in St Albans without seeing another under threat.”

Alan Oakley declined to comment, telling the Herts Advertiser it was “inappropriate as we are in contact with solicitors”.

However he said: “We are not trying to put anyone out of business. The property has been in my family since 1861.”