Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Luzhkov Kicks Off Market Makeover

Almost a year and a half after the last kerchiefed vendor left Moscow's Central Market, Mayor Yury Luzhkov initiated its transformation into a glossy, 10-story shopping mall.

Laying down a ceremonial time capsule Saturday, the mayor ended 17 months of limbo during which city officials bargained with their chief investor over the building's deed and layout.

What will result is a far cry from the grungy bounty that has drawn Muscovites to Tsvetnoi Bulvar for decades. The apricot moguls, cheese-curd salesmen and Uzbek pickle dealmakers are not likely to come back, and they're not happy about it.

"It will still be a market, but not in the sense that the word has been understood until now," said Alexei Rozanov, a spokesman for Russky Prodovolstvenny Bank, which will bankroll an undisclosed share of the $40 million project.

"It may be more like a supermarket."

The bank, which emerged as an investor about a year ago, has steered the project away from private vendors and toward a more polished -- and no doubt pricier -- shopping complex.

During the course of negotiations, the bank took 50 percent ownership of the company and ousted market director Vladimir Volkov, a "simple tradesman and former butcher" who had argued to preserve elements of the traditional market, Rozanov said.

"As far as we know, there will be no private vendors," he said.

According to press releases emblazoned with the bank's logo, the new Central Market building will make up in glamour what it lacks in produce.

The new structure, which is scheduled to be finished by 1997, will gleam with mirrored glass and devote its first floor to a Western-style supermarket.

It will also contain underground parking, a food court featuring "the cuisines of many countries" and five stories of office space, according to Mikhail Lyakin, director of construction for the market.

The Central Market's private merchants -- from the dacha herb farmers to Caucasians selling steaming lavash bread -- have watched the process with diminishing hope.

"I was practically born in there," said Vakhid Mamedov, 22, who said he had worked in the market for five years.

He was selling long-stemmed roses on the pavement outside the market Monday.

Mamedov said the vendors had been told in March 1994 that the market was being closed for repairs for two months, and since then have relied on hearsay and rare official announcements.

Gradually they have come to realize that they are shut out for good, he added.

"There are a lot of rumors," he said, as rain began to fall on his flowers. No one has any idea when -- or if -- vendors will return to the Central Market, he said. "All I know is, no one in there has been doing any work."