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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Keeping the Flea Market on Track

MTOne of the vendors at the Mark platform displaying a violin among the sundry items he was offering for sale.
Svetlana has placed the assorted items she is selling on a dusty sheet of bubble wrap right beside the railroad track; a necklace that her daughter no longer wanted, a collection of transparent rimmed prescription glasses and the pride of her eclectic range -- a 500 ruble wig that belonged to her mother-in-law. She says the wig is from Germany and made of real human hair.

The official flea market facilities at the Mark platform, on the elektrichka line running north from Savyolovsky Station, closed in April. Since then, hundreds of pensioners like Svetlana, 75, wake up at 6 a.m. to grab a good spot on the disused tracks. There they sell their wares to make to make a few rubles to supplement their pensions.

The market, which opened in 2002, was only the latest in a line of flea markets in the city's history. But the people who now sell their goods along the tracks fear it might be the last.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Vendors at the Mark platform site are regularly targeted by police raids.

"People need a flea market," said Svetlana, who would not give her surname. "We cannot afford things at the regular stores, but now there is nowhere else to go."

In April, the local administration of the Lianozovo District in northern Moscow announced that the enclosed area near the platform would be closed temporarily for sanitization. Vendors had always complained about the unstable ground and numerous puddles, and assumed that these problems would be fixed and the market re-opened. As it turns out, however, a private developer has been given the right to develop the land.

Svetlana said the vendors had no choice but to move to the tracks and would have been happier staying at the old location.

"Where we were before, we had a bathroom and tables. They were decent, civilized conditions," she said. "I am 75 years old and it hurts to bend down every time someone wants to look at something."

The tracks are crowded with vendors offering such diverse items as fluorescent toys, antiques, shoes, nails, broken phones, Soviet memorabilia, cars, lamps, and extension chords. Most items can be had for less than 100 rubles, or about $4.

Even though the vendors heading to the market from Savyolovsky Station every morning are not hard to spot, the Lianozovo District administration doesn't seem willing to admit they are still there.

"I have been away for three weeks, but the market is definitely closed," said Svetlana Bogatereva, who is filling in for Lianozovo District Prefect Sergei Semerhanov.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
A woman hanging a wedding dress out for sale by the elektrichka tracks. She was asking 300 rubles for the dress.
Bogatereva said the vendors had been told the market would be cleaned up and then reopened, but that the larger Northeast Administrative District had changed its mind because of conditions there.

"Whatever they couldn't sell on a given day they would just leave behind," Bogatereva said. "The tables cost them 10 rubles per day, which didn't come close to covering the cost of cleaning up there."

Northeast Administrative District officials declined to answer questions about the market, but said in an official statement that it had been closed for health and safety reasons. The statement said 2,500 people used the market, but that there was only room for 410 tables. As a result, the vendors would spill out onto the railroad and the mess left behind was difficult to clean.

The administration also said that not all of the goods for sale were second hand, and vendors weren't getting the necessary licenses for retail sales. Police raided the market regularly.

As if being pushed our of their normal spot wasn't enough, it now appears that the unofficial location on the unused tracks will also soon be a thing of the past. At some point either at the end of this year or the beginning of 2008, Russian Railways will need to use the track for express trains running to Sheremetyevo Airport.

For now, however, prospective customers continue to come, climbing down from the platform and making their way across the tracks -- after checking for frequently passing trains -- to peruse the wares. Crowds tiptoe around the plastic sheets on the ground and customers jostle as much as the vendors for spots along the rocky path.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
The vendors generally spread their wares out over sheets of plastic, and there is regular jostling for the best spots.
Vladimir Sorkhinov, a 48-year-old carpenter, sells electric razor heads, spoons and car parts. He is at the Mark platform every weekend, but says it is more a hobby than a way to supplement his income.

Sorkhinov said that early in the morning the babushkas elbow for the best spots along the tracks. "This is one of them, because we don't get wet if it rains" he said, pointing proudly to his mat under the bridge.

Sorkhinov said conditions in the original location had been much better, but he was not too upset when he was asked to leave.

"There are so many of us that I knew that we would go somewhere else," he said. "I just never thought we would be only 50 meters away, among the trains."

Raisa, 70, who stood next to Svetlana, was selling nail polish, aspirin, a set of Cocker Spaniel postcards from the 1960s, a computer mouse and a photo of 1980s pop star Igor Nikolayev. She said she was willing to throw in the gold-colored frame for an extra 20 rubles.

"It's nice to come here because we can chat and buy things for ourselves," Raisa said. "It's a very nice community."

She said the community will be lost if the market is shut down completely.

"It's embarrassing for Moscow," Raisa said. "Paris, London, every decent size city has one."

Indeed, Moscow has had at least one operating flea market for much of its history.

From 1812 to 1920, there was a large flea market near what is now the Sukharevskaya metro station. The neighborhood, described vividly in the works of turn-of-the-century writer and journalist Vladimir Gilyarovsky, was home to bands of thieves who often sold their booty in the market.

The main flea market in Soviet times, at Tishinskaya Ploshchad, began as just a few people hanging around to sell odd items, but by the 1960s it had spread to cover the entire square. It became famous as the one place in town you could buy almost anything. During the perestroika years, it was a favorite spot for young shoppers looking for earlier Soviet fashions that enjoyed a kitschy vogue at the time.

The market at Tishinskaya Ploshchad closed in the 1980s to make way for the T-Modul shopping center, which still hosts an upscale indoor flea market four times per year. But the prices are more than those customers would expect in a classic flea market.

When the outdoor market at Tishinskaya Ploshchad closed, many of the vendors moved to Izmailovsky Market, which opened in the 1990s, while others moved back to the old haunt at Lianozovo. It was only in 2002 that they found what seemed like a more permanent spot at the Mark platform.

In 2004, Novaya Izvestia reported that Mayor Yury Luzhkov had been planning the establishment of a flea market in each of the city's districts. But that plan ran aground when Nikolai Filatov, the city's chief public health doctor, said it would be too difficult to maintain sanitary conditions.

City Duma Deputy Sergei Mitrokhin said some arrangement should be made to keep the flea market alive.

"Of course people should have places like this, because they should have the opportunity to sell something if they want to," Mitrokhin said. "Why prohibit them from doing so?"

Staff Writer Natalya Krainova contributed to this story.