There are many aspects of communism that are leftover in Albania still today. One of them, much to my dismay, is the market. For some reason, the idea of superstores and one-stop-shops have not made it to Albania..except for in Tirana (the capital) but that’s too far away for every day shopping needs. So, what do I do instead? I spend approximately 2 hours everyday doing something that should take 20 minutes.
Here in Shkoder, and pretty much every other city in Albania, there is a different store for every item you need. There’s one place to buy cheese, one to buy milk, one to buy produce, one to buy fresh fish, and one to buy meat.
There’s a separate stand on the corner where you can buy packets of spices for 50 cents each. There’s a little old lady who sits on the curb and sells watermelons in July, figs in August, and whatever solitary fruit happens to be in season as the months go by.
(This is the man who only sells zippers. Talk about a niche market.)
There’s a separate store for homegoods like ice cub trays, brooms, bowls, dishes, and silverware. Then you have to walk down the street for electronics like blenders, mixers, and televisions. But if you need to fix any appliances, that’s a completely different store too.
(This is the cheese man. His stand is right next to the egg stand and across from the olive oil cart.)
Shoes are sold at the same place as clothes, but honey and cheese always seem to be sold at the same stand. Needless to say, there are strange combinations all over the place.
What really stands out from a foreigner’s perspective is the number of repeated stores in a row. During communism there were designated streets where people could sell electronics, a different road for produce, and another for where dairy products. That hasn’t gone away. Along the same streets you can find store after store with the same products being sold at the same price. At first I was so confused as to how any of them stayed in business. Under capitalism people would set different prices and one or two stores would go out of business or develop specialty items to keep up. But here, people just sell the same thing over and over for the same price as their neighbor. And they manage to stay in business. I guess sometimes tradition is stronger than economic common sense.
“It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.”