When you walk around Italy you'll frequently pass by stores with a large T on a sign out front. That sign is the calling card of a tabacchi, better known as a tobacco shop or tobacconist in English. While the name evokes cigarettes and cigars, tourists to Italy will the stores absolutely indispensable, even if they aren't a smoker.
Pronunciation of the Word Tabacchi: Tabacchi is pronounced ta-BAK-ee.
What to Buy in a Tabacchi Shop in Italy
Why do you need a tobacco shop if you don't smoke? Because a tabacchi is where you can go to buy local bus tickets (bigletti in Italian). Bus tickets are also often sold at a news vendor's kiosk or at a biglietteria near the starting point of buses, such as outside a train station. Tabacchi's are very convenient to buy tickets and refill bus passes because they are so plentiful.
Many tabacchi shops also carry phone cards (scheda telefonica), which are generally the cheapest way to make calls outside the country of Italy. additionally, you can recharge (add money to) your existing Italian phone card.
If you need to send a letter, you'll likely be able to find postage stamps (francobolli) at a tabacchi. A large tabacchi shop often sells pens, stationery, watches, candy, and jewelry as well. While it's unlikely, if you find yourself needing to send a fax, you can usually do it at a Tabacchi.
Some may have personal care items such as combs or toothbrushes so if you've forgotten yours, check in a Tabacchi shop. Tabacchi shops also sell lottery tickets (gioco del lotto) and you'll often see Italians stopping in to buy one. Tabacchi are great places to grab a postcard, Italian magazine, or even some candy to eat on your way.
And yes, you can get cigarettes, lighters, and other tobacco products at tabacchi across Italy. Some tabacchi have a vending machine outside so you can buy cigarettes 24 hours a day. Just remember that smoking indoors is prohibited everywhere in the country.
Essentially a tabacchi is the Italian equivalent of a New York City bodega, or a corner store in the United States. If you are in need of bus passes, stamps, stationery, toiletries, lottery tickets, and, of course, cigarettes, you should be able to easily find it in a tabacchi. If you can't find what you're looking for keep walking, you will happen upon another tabacchi in no time.
How to Find a Tabacchi in Italy
Tabacchi in Italy display the sign you see at the beginning of the article, with a big white "T" on a dark blue or black background. Underneath the large "T" you may notice that the sign says "sali e tabacchi valori botalli" That translates to salt and tobacco, revenue stamps in English. The signs refer to two products, salt and tobacco, with prices that were controlled directly by the government. While salt was once a government monopoly, it has recently been removed from government price controls. The signs, however, have not changed. Revenue stamps refer to anything that necessitates paying a fee to the government (like a passport). Those fees are paid at a tabbachi in exchange for a stamp (or sticker as of 2007) verifying payment. Since 2014 people have the option of purchasing an electronic version of the revenue stamp.
All tabacchi have to be licensed. In the past, a town's sali e tabacchi license was often given to a poor member of the community so that they could run the shop and earn some money. It was a form of social welfare.
In some very small towns, a tabacchi shop may be part of a bar.
Tabacchi can also be known as Tabacchino, or little tobacco shop.