Milan’s iconic McDonald’s closes

After 50 years as a meeting point.

The McDonald’s fast-food restaurant in Milan’s central Piazza San Babila, the first in Italy, closed without warning on 19 July, reportedly after the owner of the building failed to renew the rental agreement.

The surprise announcement was made to the 44 employees at lunch-time on Sunday 19 July, leaving them with the choice of obligatory transfer to other branches of the group or unemployment. Union activists immediately blocked the premises, while workers in four other branches around the city stopped work in a solidarity protest.

McDonald’s management is reported to be actively studying alternative solutions for the staff.

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Originally under the name Burghy, the restaurant was opened in 1984 and rapidly became a trendy meeting point for younger milanesi before being taken over in1996 by the popular US group and being decorated with the golden arch.

In an interview with centrist daily La Stampa, historian Paolo Apice – himself a former paninaro or fast-food operator – explained that up to the end of the 1970s it was almost impossible to open a popular meeting point in central Milan because opposing groups of left and right were engaged in a turf war: San Babila was a stronghold of the right, while the left-leaning youth favoured Piazza Santo Stefano, and simply wearing the wrong clothes in the wrong area could spark a rumpus.

It was the gradual fading of political activism in the city in the 1980s, he said, which provided the opportunity for a meeting point with no political label, but a style made popular by the “American dream” sweeping the cinema and television audiences.