Moscow Region Administration Will Replace Collective Farm Markets with EcoBazaars

4 april

Market stalls are groaning with the weight of the freshest produce: hundreds of types of sausages and ham, giant pumpkins and tomatoes that are bursting with ripeness like in Rubens's still life paintings! This is what European markets look like. All Russian citizens can do is envy that splendor. After all, our domestic markets seem to be wedged firmly in the Soviet past. In recent years, the administration has been trying to develop modern trade formats. What came out of those efforts? The Komsomolka newspaper explored the experience of Moscow-area Mytishchi. 

MYTISHCHI - A CITY OF CONTRASTS

Russia has historically suffered from gigantism. Such is the custom since the Soviet times. The entire country was thrown into "construction projects of the century": DneproGES, Magnitka, BAM... Even the markets are notable for their industrial-scale size.

...The 91st kilometer of the Moscow Ring Road. Before us is the Mytishchi Fairgrounds - one of the largest retail complexes in Moscow and the Moscow Region. It is spread out over dozens of hectares. Here they sell cars, building materials, clothes, produce. To put it simply, you come to the market barehanded and leave all "bundled up": with new clothes, a good supply of groceries, building materials for home repairs, and a car to drive it all back in. As long as you have the money!

The real question, though, is under what conditions the trade is conducted? Let us take a stroll through the food market. The stalls are virtually buried under piles of bags and crates, stacked up at the container entry. Vendors hide behind their product-based barricades whenever they spot a photographer. Every once in a while a truck horn announces the arrival of another product shipment.

"The market has good quality containers, but working conditions still leave much to be desired. The actual transactions are virtually all conducted out in the street!" says customer Oleg Fomin. "Here it makes sense to buy in bulk. For instance, flour or pasta."

A collective farm market is like a time machine. The building seems to be straight out of the Soviet past: an enormous hangar under a metal roof, asphalt flooring, a strong smell of dried-up meat (exhaust ventilation is more than one can hope for) .

"We are starting renovations at the Mytishchi Fairgrounds," said Oleg Yanson, General Manager of the Mytishchi Fairgrounds, in an interview with the Komsomolka newspaper. "The so-called unregulated fair format, where retail outlets were located inside containers, is going to be a thing of the past. We need to move toward more sophisticated trade formats. Such as the ones in Western Europe."

Working conditions at the fairgrounds will undergo radical changes. The market territory will be subdivided into several complementary functional areas, which will ensure comfortable conditions for retail complex customers, tenants and services. The fairgrounds renovation project underwent public hearings and has been approved by head of the Mytishchi city government. Residents of Moscow and the Moscow Region will see the initial results of this renovation in the near future, when the food retail complex upgrades have been completed.

A ROOF FOR A VENDOR

In 2006, the Russian government approved a reconstruction program for city markets and fairgrounds. Work was due to have been completed by 2009. The key requirement for all managing companies was to move all trade operations from the street into hard-wall facilities. Or under a roof, to put it simply. Yet initially the document's effective period was extended to January 1, 2013, and now the experts are talking about an additional extension of the renovations project.

Local authorities ran into a host of problems. Yet only one key problem was enough to bring reconstruction to a standstill: the overwhelming majority of markets are private enterprises. Not all managing companies have the means to conduct a major overhaul of retail space. And even if they do find the money, the result is not always acceptable to city officials. Requirements for these projects have not been detailed in the program.

Basically, the administration in every region develops its own requirements for new market construction by way of trial and error. The Moscow Region authorities have someone to take their cue from. In November of 2011 the very same city of Mytishchi marked the opening of an ecobazaar at the site of a former collective farm market.

IN EUROPEAN STYLE

On the face of it an ecobazaar is a typical retail center. A lot of glass and metal structures. Once you are inside, however, you don't know where to look first. The entire first floor is allocated to produce trade. An enormous assortment of meat and milk products, a live fish aquarium in the fish and seafood department, at the heart of the store -- a tandoor bakery, where they bake flatbread.

"The project was put together by bits and pieces," said business manager Denis Akulinin. "We took a Barcelona market as our basis. We loved it so much, everything there is done in European style."

Market stalls are blindingly clean. Vendors are clad in caps and uniforms. Powerful exhaust ventilation takes care of all the smells.

In addition to products that are traditional to a market - greens, vegetables, fruits, and pickled foods - the Mytishchi ecobazaar offers a selection of sausages (including Belarusian ones), fresh fish, wild honey, homemade yogurts, cottage cheese, milk, and many others. Moreover, it includes a number of stores that offer related products for the home, consumer services, a coffee shop, a bank branch, a pharmacy, and a child care center. Altogether the bazaar's two storeys are home to at least 250 sales outlets.

"We gave special consideration to pricing policy," adds Denis Akulinin. "We brought in products directly from producers to avoid having middlemen rack up the prices. We work with farmers and large peasant households. That is why our prices are no higher than those of neighboring retail centers, but our quality is better."

The project is being developed by one of Russia's largest restaurant chains. At the moment building documents have been prepared for similar retail center construction in Obninsk and Kaluga. The entire EcoBazaar chain will be represented by about a dozen retail centers in Moscow and the Moscow Region. Plus there are other entrepreneurs waiting in the wings. So the administration is hopeful that before long regional markets will become a delight to consumers.

EXPERT OPINIONS

Elena LITVINOVA, First Deputy Minister of Consumer Market and Services of the Moscow Region: "Renovation projects have been developed, construction will begin soon."

"Replacing open-air markets with covered markets is a federal program. At first glance it seems that the Moscow Region administration has nothing to do with it. But that is not so. Regional and municipal authorities are engaged in a constant dialogue with companies that manage the markets. We hurry them along with their project developments. We discuss projects during committee meetings. We try to make the markets as comfortable as possible for both tenants and consumers. As of today, the administration of all the markets has developed renovation projects; the documents are currently in various stages of the endorsement process.

The most problematic markets are those located near the Moscow Ring Road. They are generally multi-purpose markets that are spread out over dozens of hectares. Constructing a single building in such conditions is nowhere near enough. Every market solves this problem on an individual basis. Research and Project Institute of Moscow City Master Plan generally takes over the development of renovation projects for retail facilities. The question of transport accessibility is an important one: the planned solutions are the construction of a Moscow Ring Road alternate, as well as of separate roads. Construction is slated to be launched in the near future."

Alexander BULEEV, an expert at the Research Institute for the Movement of Goods and Wholesale Market Conditions: "Cities with a million-plus population will have their markets renovated within three to four years."

"The administration is gradually bringing order to retail markets and bazaars. Trade operations are becoming more refined. The results are already becoming apparent in many large population centers. I think that in three-four years cities with a million-plus population will see their markets modernized. Markets in other cities will join civilization a bit later.

The further a town is from a regional center, the smaller its population and the lower the salaries. Sales turnover and revenue of market managers automatically goes down as well. The industry has no money to upgrade retail space. For that reason, small towns and villages will see the advent of modern trade formats much later."