30 December 2006

Seventh-Kilometer Market (Odesa)

During a recent visit to Odesa we visited the famous “Seventh-Kilometer” open-air market. Located on the outskirts of town, apparently on the seventh kilometer of the Odesa ring road, the rynok encompasses 70 hectares that stretch as far as the eye can see. A crowded one and two-story tall city of improvised sales booths (numbering 16,000 according to Wikipidea) lies beyond an expansive set of surprising well organized parking lots, bus stops, and marshutka depots. In the distance, a hillside is covered with steel ocean shipping containers converted to retail sales booths creating a visual tapestry of maroon, dark green, and blue squares lined up like children’s blocks against the grey sky on the horizon. The booths are arranged in long rows separate by tiny aisles crawling with bargain seeking shoppers. Under the pretext of looking for a leather winter coat, we walked down an aisle of winter coat booths that was probably a kilometer long, only to turn and see yet another winter coat aisle of the same length, and another, and so on. We walked almost continuously for four hours within what seemed like one small section of the market. Our guide Masha, the Odesyt, estimated that we had explored maybe 5% of the whole market.

The booths vary in architectural approach from the garden variety steel frame covered with cheap canvas to actual mini, two-story buildings with floors, roofs complete with rain gutters, and lighting. On the hillside, the old ocean containers are opened at one end, a table is setup at the entrance, and voila one has a ready made store complete with inventory storage facilities. I am amazed at the display of ingenuity and resourcefulness evident in the way the booths are engineered. The way the inventory is stored in tiny spaces yet instantly accessible could be a lesson for any logistics warehouse manager. Standing in front of a booth with hundreds of buttons and other sewing accessories, for example, we ask for one of the belt buckles and the woman behind the table finds it instantly in her lattice of shelves, containers and labeling methods. Walking through the noisy, crowded aisles past the endless booths is almost akin to an athletic event. Periodically we make room for vendors pushing their home made carts aggressively down the aisle yelling out their ala carte menus. Hot tea, coffee, roasted peanuts, varenyky, hachipuri, lavash, lula kebab, and many other items are offered for a reasonable sum during your shopping process. The storekeepers fend off the December chill by smoking and sipping cognac from small white plastic cups. The glaring lack of garbage cans in the entire complex leads to collections of empty cognac bottles on the ground in small piles at the end of each aisle. The subsequently happy sales people often converge with each other along booth boundaries to pass the time as shoppers steadily stream past. The mechanics of the sales process, that have probably evolved very little in thousands of years, are in full swing. We pretend we don’t really need the item we're negotiating for and the store keeper pretends that he doesn’t really need to sell it. Then each side argues mightily to advance their position of disinterest while, in parallel, the price point is adjusted almost as an afterthought. I admired the inventiveness of a few of the store keepers who replaced the standard, plain awnings (typical for each booth) with colorfully patterned ones to help the shopper, and potential customer, remember the booth and possible return.

The cash based, unregulated free-market principles at play gave the market an certain energy attracting 150,000 customers daily. Products range from genuine (in my opinion), to third-shift products (unsanctioned product runs by official manufacturer subcontractors in the far east -- generally with cheaper raw materials), to out-right knock-offs. We passed through the sewing supplies section where fake Dolce and Gabana, Armani, Brioni, Louis Vuitton, Adidas, and Nike labels were on sale by the roll. When I took a picture the storekeeper smiled and asked why. We I replied that it was just out of curiosity he said "Takoho ne buvaye".

In the end, we found the perfect winter coat (factoring in our suspicions that it may be a knockoff), conducted the requisite negotiation, bought some parsley and dill from a passing vendor and left the Seventh Kilometer as satisfied customers.


olechko said...

I heard lots of this place, really want to go see it. It's a straight shot from Kyiv to Odessa apparently...

Mariya said...


sorry for posting offtopic, I coundn't find any contact information of you here.

You are posting a lot about Ukraine and your posts seem to be pretty unique.

I am working for www.HowToManage.In.UA project and i would like to ask you if you mind posting about us?

We have posted the link to your blog in the "Blogs" section of our web-site.

Looking forward to hear from you.

Best regards,
Mariya Novak.
Project manager of www.HowToManage.In.UA

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