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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Tunnel Traders: An Endangered Species?

If Mayor Yury Luzhkov has his way, Moscow's web of pedestrian tunnels will soon be free of most of the booksellers, clothes vendors and others who crowd the city's underworld.

In one of a series of recent decrees aimed at cleaning up Moscow, the mayor ordered that only a limited number of licensed vendors be allowed to work the underpasses. License fees will fund future repairs of the tunnels.

If recent history is any guide, however, many traders and even the police will ignore the order.

Around the three train stations on Komsomolskaya Square, policemen like Sergei Mikhalov are authorized to press charges against underground vendors, yet he acknowledges that he makes quite a few exceptions. A group of elderly women quickly packed up the plastic bags and candy they were offering for sale upon seeing Mikhalov, but he did not detain them.

"I can't arrest an old woman", he said, explaining that he had respect for his elders. "Old is old".

Mikhalov also said initially he could issue fines on the spot and allow vendors to keep trading. A few minutes later, he said he could not administer fines, but could only send people to court.

Exempt from the mayor's decree are people like Andrei Pavlevich, 24, who stands inside the Komsomolskaya Square pedestrian tunnel wearing a sign around his neck "I buy vouchers, 4, 500 rubles". He is one of those optimists that believe that one day stock in Russian companies will be worth something, so he invests half of the vouchers he buys, and sells the rest for a profit.

Such merchants are allowed to take a place along the underpass wall because they are buying, not selling, police said.

Most vendors are attracted to the underpass for simple climatic reasons; it's simply less harsh underground than on Moscow's streets.

Moscow's metro has also found that attempts to license vendors do not bar an army of unauthorized vendors. The assistant director of the metro, Dmitry Gayev, says the metro has authorized 2, 000 traders, but adds that the real number is actually a lot higher. Gayev dreams of a European-style vending network underground, with clean, permanent commercial establishments.

The mayor, however, continues to sign decrees with lofty motives that are either ignored or only partially enforced on Moscow's streets.

For instance, street vendors have ridiculed his efforts to stop the sales of Russian flags and medals, and many still openly sell the goods. and the hundreds who once gathered around Dyetsky Mir to sell children's clothing and toys have responded to a ban on sales outside the building by crowding into the store itself and selling there.