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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

City to Cut Kiosks, Urges Move to Stores

The city government will remove a fifth of all kiosks from Moscow streets over the next two weeks and freeze new kiosk construction by year's end, according to a new City Hall decree.

The move, an attempt to speed the transfer of street trading to stores, will be accompanied by construction of pavilions to fuse most remaining kiosks into "mini-markets," city officials said Friday.

"Kiosks have ruined the city," said Viktor Pasenko, head of urban design at Moskomarkhitekturoi, City Hall's architecture department. "Now we will refuse new kiosks, and in areas of many kiosks we will make 'trade complexes.'"

The plan to curtail kiosks -- detailed in a decree by Mayor Yury Luzhkov last week -- is not the first of its kind, but it is notable for the speed with which it seeks to uproot thousands of the kiosks which have sprouted in the capital over the last five years. Many kiosks have already disappeared in recent weeks from some heavily trafficked areas, such as Kievsky Station.

The decree demands that district officials remove more than 3,000 of Moscow's 16,000 kiosks before Aug. 1. The first to go will be those set up without official city permission or those whose owners refuse to clean up the surrounding area.

The popular daily Moskovsky Komsomolets called the plan a "real war" to "liquidate" the glass boxes that have come to symbolize the early stage of capitalism in Moscow.

The call to develop "mini-markets" represents the latest evolution in Moscow's capitalist commercial development that started with people selling single items on the street. The pavilions are already under construction in several areas of Moscow, Pasenko said.

The City Hall blueprint on retail development also commands Moscow Property Committee officials to free up more commercial space on the first floors of office and apartment buildings to make way for stores.

"We are only at the beginning of the development of trade," said Galina Malyants, head of the small trade division of Moscow's Consumer Affairs Department. "In the beginning, people did not have money to open stores, but now, apparently, many kiosk owners do have money to move into stores."

For kiosk owner Nikolai Tvetkov, the new decree has prompted him to leave the business, but in the future he will work as a middleman between a Moscow factory and retail outlets rather than open his own store, he said.

"After the summer ends I will sell my kiosks as long as they still have value," he said, adding that he expected to receive about 4 million rubles (about $2,000) for each of his two kiosks. "Later there will be no demand for them."

Tvetkov, like many businesspeople, still finds the prospect of opening a store overly daunting.

"There are very many stores in Moscow already; imagine what would happen if half the owners of kiosks tried to open stores," he said.

Among the obstacles he cited was the high cost of inventory. His kiosk stocks about 1.5 million to 2 million rubles worth of goods, far below what a store would require.

Other would-be storeowners cite Moscow's hesitation to privatize its commercial space, bureaucracy, crime, and corrupt government officials as barriers to retail expansion.

These factors help explain why, like old soldiers, kiosks never die, they just fade away -- and reappear elsewhere.

For example, after the city removed hundreds of liquor- and candy-filled kiosks from the Old Arbat in April 1993, they gradually resurfaced in other parts of Moscow. Even as Luzhkov has stepped up his rhetoric in recent months about the need to eliminate the boxes, their number remains, as earlier this year, at about 16,000, according to city officials.

Even utopian planners in City Hall concede that some kiosks will always be part of life in the Russian capital. Yet they would like to see kiosk trade limited to what they called "socially needed categories" such as ice cream, newspapers, tobacco and services such as shoe-shines.