There are a variety of stores for buying groceries here in Italy. The basic shops which are most prevalent in neighborhoods are the fruttivendola where you buy fresh fruits and vegetables; usually locally grown and what is in season. There are also separate stores for meat, macelleria, and bread, forno. These establishments are usually rather small but the owners are friendly and helpful to their customers.
The next level of grocery stores in terms of size and selection is the alimentari which may carry fruits, vegetables, bread, milk, and some other items – but especially cured meats and cheeses. These shops are usually family run with very knowledgeable proprietors. Service is the key to these shops, not variety, while they will primarily have local products.
The chain stores tend to start at the supermercato level, neighborhood sized grocery stores that have a greater variety of items but are still small in comparison to an American grocery store.
Then there is the ipermerato, the Italian rendition of the Wal-Mart Superstore. They are enormous and carry a little bit of everything yet lack the personal one-to-one service you will find at the neighborhood establishments. These stores tend to give me a head-ache, both here and in the US; probably from the poor lighting and sensory over-load.
We can collect everything we need at the small shops here in the centro in less time than it would take to drive to the ipermercato to buy the same items – so no reason to subject ourselves to that misery!