Rome’s Business Street market should really not be seen as an attempt to make up for the demise of Milan’s once-mighty Mifed, though the budding bazaar is certainly helping the local industry recover from the trauma of that loss.

“We know perfectly well that the fall market is dominated by Toronto and the AFM,” says Giorgio Gosetti, topper of the informal mart held on terraces and in theaters on and around the Via Veneto.

But being a much smaller affair doesn’t keep Business Street from filling a crucial gap, both for companies still waxing nostalgic about Mifed and for those — of which there are many outside Italy — who aren’t.

“I think it works well in Rome,” says veteran London-based sales agent Nicole Mackey, topper of Fortissimo Films, U.K., according to whom, “Mifed will never be replaced because there’s no room for another big European market.”

Mackey relishes Rome’s friendly format, its focus on “quality, not quantity,” both in terms of attendees and product. She finds that a pre-AFM meet of “the people who buy quality films rather than what used to be known as the straight-to-DVD crowd” has a real raison d’etre, which Mifed instead ultimately came to lack.

In a year in which several top sales agents, including Mackey, skipped Venice, and the biz level in Toronto was somewhat subdued — and that was before the global financial markets crashed — Rome is actually pitching itself as the fall mart you can’t miss.

“More than in past editions, Rome is turning into the spot where you meet people you would not otherwise see during this period,” boasts Business Street manager Sylvain Auzou, according to whom “some of our attendees won’t be going to AFM this year, because they are based in Europe and making the trip is too expensive.”

Perhaps more importantly, AFM doesn’t meet the needs of many smaller European players.

“The AFM is not relevant for us because the focus there is on B-product or English-language product,” says Philippe Bober, head of sales at Parisian arthouse boutique Coproduction Office.

“Toronto is increasingly turning into just a platform for U.S. releases,” he adds. “People come to Rome to buy arthouse movies, so for us it has become the most important fall market.”

So far, some 600 buyers and sellers are signed up, at least half from outside Italy. Roughly 120 pics will be screening at the Rome mart, more than half of which are not unspooling at the fest. Of these, 40 are market premieres.

That’s not a bad turnout, considering that in May, when Rome was teetering due to political turmoil, some international industryites “decided to book space at the AFM, though they would have preferred coming here instead,” claims the mart’s co-manager Diamara Parodi.

Parodi, Auzou and Gosetti are especially proud of the fact that besides such sales companies as Wild Bunch, Celluloid Dreams, Sogepaq and the Works, there are 12 buyers making the trek to Rome from Japan, even though the fest overlaps with the Tokyo Intl. Film Festival.

So Gosetti may be more than just optimistic when he says, “Times have been tough, but that could make Rome the place where some deals are finally closed.”

Rome will never become Mifed redux, but for operators in the specialty trenches, Business Street could conquer a spot on the fall calendar, as long as it keeps its ambitions in check and the champagne flowing on its terraces.