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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Steps Up War on Kiosks

Mayor Yury Luzhkov has taken his newly waged war on kiosks to the public, announcing on a television talk show that the time for Moscow's moveable consumer feast has passed. "They have fulfilled their purpose," Luzhkov said Tuesday on Moscow Television's Good Evening Moscow, elaborating on a new city plan to create "order" on the city's streets by eliminating all spontaneous street trade and many kiosks. "Now it is time for trade to go back into the stores," he said. Stuffed with everything from canned peas to kiwi liqueur to fur coats, kiosks have blossomed as the first alternative to nearly empty Soviet-era stores. Moscow's stores, however, may even now be unprepared to take up the slack left by disappearing kiosks as Luzhkov made clear in a decision Tuesday. Luzhkov promised at a meeting that he would grant licensed food sellers from the Moscow region an exception to his strict new sales regime, allowing them to trade milk products, eggs, vegetables and other foods from cars or carts anywhere in Moscow. The exception was to appease suburban food suppliers, who are owed billions of rubles by the city-run food distributors that supply many Moscow stores, a mayoral spokesman said. Vladimir Tereshenko, who attended Luzhkov's Tuesday meeting with Moscow region officials, said the city owes 8.8 billion rubles ($4.8 million) to suburban chicken factories alone. Luzhkov also told the meeting he expected their street trade to "create healthy competition," increase food supply and lower prices by 15 to 20 percent, according to Tereshenko. But the mayor's critics said Wednesday that by that logic, his plan to remove kiosks could hardly benefit Moscow's consumers. "What I'm very afraid of is that it's just a trick to curtail trade or attract people to shops that will charge too-high prices, and the result might be less availability," said a Western economist who asked not to be named. Though city authorities have frequently cried wolf about removing kiosks, officials say Luzhkov is serious this time. Mikhail Igolkin, in charge of kiosks for central Moscow, said Wednesday that mayoral officials had ordered him to "get rid of" half his district's 4,000 kiosks. He said a recent Luzhkov decree outlawing all kiosks located on lawns or in the way of pedestrian routes or mechanized cleaning would take care of 821 kiosks. The remaining 1179 will be chosen from among those selling clothing, electronics and alcohol instead of "socially significant" goods such as food, cigarettes, newspapers, flowers and theater tickets, he said. "At one time stores were empty," Igolkin said. "Now the stores are selling all the same goods, and more cheaply." Shoppers disagreed Wednesday, saying they doubted stores would soon replace either the late-night kiosks that provide Moscow's first round-the-clock supply of cigarettes and snacks or the upscale kiosks that sell expensive shoes, furs and leather items. A former European Community adviser to Poland said Wednesday that kiosks sprouted in Warsaw for about a year as the free market gained a foothold, and then "naturally disappeared" without pressure from city authorities as merchants moved into shops. City Duma deputy Irina Rukina said the city was at fault for frightening potential store retailers with a draft privatization plan providing for city control over inventory and prices even in privatized stores. Igolkin said he too considered Luzhkov's vision of kiosk functions quickly moving to stores "unrealistic." He said that his administration would build an outdoor "mini-market" to replace 66 kiosks on Ploshchad Ilyicha. About 16,000 of the glass-and-metal boxes have sprung up on the capital's streets since 1988, Igolkin said.