Dozens of families will file into Europa Imports over the next couple months, looking for tiny, white dresses as they prepare for Holy Communion season.
This time of religious observance is particularly special for parents and children, explained shop owner Paul Governali.
“It’s fun to be part of it,” he said, describing how Windsor-area families have been coming to his family’s Erie Street store for decades. There used to be a time when young pre-teen daughters tried on the dresses and mothers chose their favourites.
“Today: girls pick, girls try it on and the mom just has to agree,” Paul said, laughing. “They know what they like because they’re exposed to it on TV—it’s Cinderella and the whole princess idea.”
Europa Imports, which was started by Paul’s parents Giuseppe and Giovanna Governali back in 1972, is one of the oldest shops in Via Italia. Only La Stella Supermarket and Mancini’s Italia Bakery have been around just as long. The family business sprung from the trunk of Giuseppe’s car those 48 years ago.
The family business sprung from the trunk of Giuseppe’s car 48 years ago when he hauled supplies from Toronto to make lamps and ashtray stands.
He and Giovanna moved to Windsor with $1,000 and rented a storefront on Erie Street. Three months later, their shop was bursting with inventory and they had $9,000 in the bank. They then bought a building at the corner of Erie and Langlois streets, making Windsor their permanent home and expanding Europa Imports to include much more than ashtrays and lamps.
The family spent a few years operating there—now the home of Erie Discount Convenience—before settling into the current space at 558 Erie Street about 35 years ago.
Europa maintains its popularity, largely because the family has maintained specialty services offered by few others. Those services range from communion dresses and baptismal gowns to wedding favours and espresso machine repair.
With the popularity of online shopping, customers come to Europa because they prefer to try on dresses and gowns, Paul explained. It’s an experience online shopping can’t provide. Customers also know they’re getting something original.
Many long-time Europa customers, and Erie Street neighbours, like to pop in for a visit and a shot of coffee.
“It is a tight community,” Paul explained, saying he’s often hopped up on a dozen or so doses of caffeine. “Even though time’s gone by and businesses change, we always manage to get to know each other.”
He also sells a wide range of espresso machines. He’s one of very few dealers in southwestern Ontario authorized to repair the equipment. In February, Keri Kanter drove from Port Stanley with her espresso machine because she couldn’t find an authorized shop anywhere else.
“You’re one of the very few people who fixes them,” she said as she excitedly paid her bill. “Having this service is extremely valuable.”
Continuing Europa Imports Tradition
Paul expects Europa’s popularity to continue because of the loyal families constantly give him recommendations. He says he’s come a long way from being the young child uninterested in working at his dad’s store.
Paul used to sneak out of the house, slipping into the back alley or out the front steps, in order to avoid being seen on the sales floor.
“I was often going through a different exit because my dad would get me to do something,” he said, smiling. “I’d go out the back door or out the front stairs and straight out.”
After graduating from international business in university, though, Paul returned home and helped his dad at the store, instantly falling in love with the business. He cherishes the ability to work with customers at such happy moments in their lives.
“I love dealing with people. I love the interaction,” he said. “We deal with weddings, we deal with baptisms, we deal with communions. So, people coming in, they’re always happy.”