The Novosibirsk flea market as a disappearing phenomenon 10/1/2012, 07:01
In the East, the bazaar is the most important place in the city. It should stay where it sprung up because it is the centre not only of trade, but also of communication: people share the latest news while drinking tea. There are no bazaars in Siberia. Instead, there are flea markets, which live by a completely different set of rules.
Gusinobrodsky Market (better known as the Novosibirsk flea market) is one of the largest east of the Urals. It appeared in the 1970s and experienced a rebirth in the early 90s. More than 10,000 traders work here and wholesale buyers come from almost all Siberian cities. There are many stories connected to the Novosibirsk flea market, including criminal ones. In September 2012, another scandal broke out — the market is going to be moved to another place.
There are three reasons: firstly, the new federal law «On retail markets», according to which from 1 January 2013 markets in large cities should be located only in covered, permanent structures. Secondly, the «Concept for the development of Gusinobrodsky Market», developed in 2002, also suggested putting the flea market under a roof. Thirdly, the area now occupied by market stalls is the planned site of a new depot and turning circle for the city’s underground trains.
The time remaining until January is quickly ticking away, but the Novosibirsk flea market continues to operate. Sib.fm’s correspondents decided to make a record of the flea market as it really is and find out what the traders live on and hope for.
5 markets at «Gusinka»: «Nevsky», «Skinner», «Raduga» (Rainbow), «Rusich» and «Mammon»
The dead of night, when most people are asleep, is the beginning of the working day for market traders. The wholesale market opens at 2 a.m. and is no less lively then, than during the day. Most traders live nearby, on the Eastern housing estate, but few walk to their market stalls; most travel by taxi. The standard rate is 100 roubles ($3); so for two people it’s 50 and for four, just 25 each. Most of the taxis are old Ladas. People club together to buy them and take turns to drive. The more wealthy and fortunate taxi drivers have bigger cars or even minibuses.
The market is already busy at 3 a.m. All of the parking spaces are occupied by various vehicles — large coaches, minibuses and cars. Looking at the number plates and bus signs, you can see where the goods are going today: Tomsk, Omsk, Leninsk-Kuznetsky, Kemerovo, Achinsk, Krasnoyarsk, Kyzyl, Severobaikalsk, Yakutia, Nefteyugansk — the whole of Siberia purchases stock at «Gusinka», and not just Siberia. Wholesalers are running around the stalls with trolleys, rushing everywhere and jostling — there isn’t much time to stock up, just a few hours. The mountains of trunks on trolleys grow and are regularly shoved into the luggage compartments of buses as the buyers rush off for more goods.
The daily flea market, when goods are sold to the public, opens after wholesale trade. This retail section is open every day until 3 p.m., and the busiest days are, of course, at the weekend. Elena has been selling at the flea market for 20 years. She was one of the first to trade in her «civilian» occupation for a stall at the Gusinobrodsky Market. Her sole trader registration number is in the first hundred. The woman refused to give her surname or be photographed, but told me how it all began and how, in her opinion, it’s going to end.
«How did it turn out that you started working here? What was the flea market like in the early 90s?»
«People came out of despair, not from a good life. It was 1992 and I’d been kicked out of the factory. I’m an engineer with higher education, a good specialist. But suddenly no one needed specialists anymore. I had three children to bring up on my own. That’s the most common story here; everyone stood and traded together — engineers, dentists, teachers, scientists, pilots, soldiers.
In the early 90s, entry to Gusinobrodsky Market was paid-for
For my first trip I borrowed some money, put on my most tattered and worn clothes, got on a train and went to Chita for stock. When you have nothing but a large amount of other people’s money, you feel only fear. What if you get robbed? What if they take your stock? There was total chaos all around — some people had gone crazy because of fear and the customs officials were running riot. Back then they could take absolutely everything off you. People like me borrowed money and travelled, just to be able to provide for ourselves to some extent. Once there was a train from Urumqi which was completely cleaned out by customs. In those cases, most people simply took their own lives. Only later did we learn to make agreements and pay extra to the necessary people. Sometimes we had to throw our stock away and I was made to get off the train several times.
Even now I am afraid of travelling on the train. When I’m carrying money, I don’t talk to anyone and still wear the same old rags. If someone asks, I say I’m visiting my son in the army. The journey back is easier — you feel calmer when you’ve spent the money.
The train wasn’t the only scary thing. Two in the morning, winter and dark, and I’m on my way to the flea market on foot. I even used to cry out of fear.
We were robbed on the way to work and in the containers. We used to stand here for two shifts each. If you couldn’t hold out and fell asleep, something was stolen.
That was a common thing then. At first, there were also a lot of ‘games’: «Open a coupon, oh, you’ve won! You just have to pay a small fee.» But now even the pickpockets have disappeared.
«There are very few local traders left today. How do you get along with the newcomers?»
«Only the hardest are still here. Many of those who were here at the start have died; a small percentage have gone back to working in their profession. We’re like some kind of dinosaurs. They really do come here from everywhere — mostly from Kyrgyzstan. Many have already received Russian citizenship, bought an apartment and pay taxes. Some even serve in the army.
There are a lot of Tajiks too. When young Tajiks arrive, they can’t speak Russian at all, but learn quickly. They start chatting away after one month. Young people from the former Soviet republics come here to earn money for their weddings. A lot come with their families, and we have a lot of Russians on the estate who live with Tajiks. Everything is tied together.
How do we get along? Excellently. Do you know why? We’re all up the same creek without a paddle.
Everyone is all right here; we even celebrate birthdays together. The recent scandal with the film ‘The Innocence of Muslims’ is a good example. At the flea market, 80% are Muslims. Most of them say that the film is just provocation, shot by a porn director. We calmly talk about these topics. A community forms, despite the fact that people constantly come and go.
«Tell us how you trade in the extreme cold. How do you have to dress to withstand it?»
«Oh, we have a great system of clothing. Firstly, everything has to be natural — just wool and fur, nothing artificial. Secondly, we have our own ‘work clothes’, which are like a knitted fur coat, which we call a ‘tellytubby’. The tellytubby is worn over normal winter clothing. Then there are ‘chuni’: felt boots, trimmed with fur inside. Chuni are worn on top of winter boots too. I almost never get cold in the winter if I’m properly dressed. Well, I’ve got used to it over 20 years. I always sleep with an open window, summer and winter. Everyone else is cold and I’m warm. I’m used to the chill. You need to eat well too. Bringing your own food is pointless — the thermos lid gets covered in ice and freezes shut; everything else turns to ice too. But people are always bringing us hot food, sometimes it’s really nice.»
«You must be very good at working people out.»
«I can see through everyone. In fact, I realised here that a good salesperson is really valuable and that it takes a lot of effort to find one.»
«Did you ever think about leaving the flea market?»
«I still do. Every time the alarm clock goes off at two in the morning. But who needs me now? I’m not a young girl anymore; just you try and find me a job. But I can always make a living here. Whatever happens, the flea market won’t let you die of hunger.»
«What will happen when it is closed and transferred to another place?»
"It will be a shame — the whole structure will fall apart. We’ve got sewing workshops here that make hats and pants, and knit a lot. Where will they all go? They’ll all bite the dust and so many jobs will be lost. The workers still haven’t paid off the loans they used to start production and have already more or less lost their businesses. Then there’s the Plyuschikhinsky estate. Why do you think the apartments there were bought up so quickly? Because of the market...they’d be useless without it! And what about the newcomers? Why do you think that we have such good relations with the Kyrgyz? Because of the flea market. What will happen when the Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Yazidis, Turkmen and others end up on the street? They’ll get desperate then start stealing and killing.
Why do you think life is so good in America? Because their laws don’t change for 200 years at a time; we have a complete restructuring once every 20 years.
At first, we were told that a covered shopping centre would be built and we will move there. You have to pay 600,000 roubles ($20,000) just to get a place, then rent is another 40,000 ($1,300) a month. Who will be able to cope with that? What about the fur market in ’Rainbow’? They have just had money shaken out of them for covered pavilions, which they built at their own expense; the government didn’t invest a penny. What should they do now? Abandon them?
Now this idea of moving out of the city has come back. Who is going to go out of town? Wholesalers won’t, sellers won’t, buyers won’t. The flea market will be done for. Even if we move, rent will jump up, so prices will rise too. It’s already hard to compete with the city on price; the rent here is mad as it is, from 20 to 60 thousand ($650-2000) for a container.
I don’t know what we’re going to do. People have borrowed a lot of money to buy stock, how are they supposed to pay it back now? But these are just our problems. No one else is bothered about us.