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

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Clampdown on Kiosks Gathers Speed

Moscow is stepping up its campaign to rid its sidewalks of ramshackle kiosks, the city's most ubiquitous symbol of capitalism, in time for the capital's 850th anniversary celebration in September.

New, more permanent-looking mini-marts are expected to take the place of kiosks that now sell everything from vodka to car parts, said Andrei Varchenya of the city government press office.

"It is part of the preparations for the anniversary, but it would have been done anyway, sooner or later," Varchenya said.

The city has been trying for several years to clamp down on kiosks, which Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov considers unsightly. Evidence of the effort has been more pronounced in recent weeks with the sudden disappearance of kiosk rows along major roads and outside train stations.

City officials cast the program as a civic improvement project rather than a crackdown. In many cases, they say, kiosk owners are only too happy to replace their booths with more permanent structures -- although they must do so at their own expense.

"There is no enforcement here. We just offer vendors [the chance] to remove the old kiosk and erect a new little shop instead," said Galina Malyants of the city's consumer market and services department. "It's better for both vendors and consumers to have a permanent shop."

Some kiosk proprietors are less than enthusiastic.

"We don't know what's going to happen to our place," said a sales assistant of probably the only kiosk left on Ulitsa Sretenka. Another three kiosks located just meters away have already closed down.

A trailer-kiosk owner from Gruzinsky Pereulok also was skeptical. "They just never know what they want," he said. "From kiosks to trailers, from trailers to kiosks. Now these mini-marts."

Because his trailer is classified as a mobile cafe, he said, he expects to survive through the summer, but probably not much longer.

Aggrieved kiosk owners do have legal recourse, at least in theory. Any vendor who complies with all requirements and has a valid trading license is entitled to compensation if the city makes him stop his trade, said Konstantin Alyoshin of the market and services section of Moscow's central administrative district.

He conceded, however, that he could not recall anyone ever invoking that provision of the law.

Instead, requirements for kiosks have become stricter over the past year and are being checked much more frequently. For example, Alyoshin said, the fire safety inspection service only recently decided that no temporary structure can stand less than eight meters away from a building.

That simple rule, he said, renders illegal almost every kiosk currently located in central Moscow.

"There is no space for them on our streets, so they will have to go," Alyoshin said.

The city's effort should in general improve the control over the quality of service and goods sold in mini-marts, said Oleg Komarovsky of the consumers magazine Spros, or Demand.

"On the other hand, once a fairly mobile feature like a kiosk transfers into a permanent mini-mart, the control becomes absolutely total," Komarovsky said. "There is no way a vendor can just pick up his kiosk and move."