World’s largest bazaar clearing way for soccer championship

This year’s news that Poland and Ukraine will co-host the 2012 European soccer championships brought euphoria to the two countries.But a downside is that Poland’s plans to renovate Warsaw’s old 10th Anniversary Stadium means the huge bazaar that sprang up in and around the stadium will be gone.

In fact, it is already shrinking rapidly. Sports Minister Elzbieta Jakubiak has told the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that the old facility will be transformed into a new National Stadium that will be the centerpiece of Poland’s half of the 2012 games.

The opening match of the games will be held there, for example.Although soccer fans will be happy about the gleaming new facility, the thousands of people who make their living in what may be Europe’s biggest bazaar won’t be. They’ll have to find another place to hawk their goods.Anticipating the closing of the market in a few years, about half have already left.

A few years ago more than 6,000 Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Vietnamese and others were registered to sell things at the Stadion Dziesieciolecia. Now there are about 3,000. But the actual number of hawkers has always been much higher because many do not register. And tens of thousands of other people have always worked for the vendors.

The Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper said many of the vendors are moving to the market at ul. Radzyminska. Others are going to the Marywilsk-area bazaar. Still others are searching elsewhere.”During the last 18 years almost 20,000 people were selling here,” said Bogdan Tomaszewski, the head of Damis, the company that ran the bazaar until the government decided it would build the new soccer stadium there.Being a bazaar vendor wasn’t an easy life, Tomaszewski said.

But running a bazaar stall gave many people what they needed to launch a sizable company away from the market. Tomaszewski shrugs off the impending loss of the bazaar. “It’s a sign of the times,” he said. Business is shifting from bazaar stalls to “new, modern forms of commerce.” The 10th Anniversary Stadium, which was completed in 1953, was one of the most celebrated construction projects during Poland’s Communist era from 1952 to 1989.In 1989 the City of Warsaw leased it to Damis, which turned it into a bazaar known as Jarmark Europa – Europe Fair or Eurasia.

The bazaar soon became one of the world’s largest. It also became one of the most exotic areas in Poland because thousands of the hawkers are from other countries.The bazaar’s top management said it once generated about 500 mln zloty in sales a year, but many people think that’s a considerable underestimate. Economists believe that during its heyday in the early to mid-1990s it created about 80,000 jobs – people who produced the goods and food sold at the bazaar, who supplied transportation services to the vendors and so on. In its early days it was also a throwback to the old black-market days of communism in that you could find anything you wanted there, from gas masks and Soviet coins to bootlegged pornographic DVDs.

There was also plenty of vodka and cigarettes for sale, but they were not on vendors’ shelves. You had to ask for them.Regardless of what you were buying, you couldn’t take photographs. Josef Stalin might have been long gone, but paranoia from the Communist era was still alive. Some vendors are still engaged in questionable activities, police say. Africans and Armenians do secretive business in the top seats of the old stadium, officers say. They even sell weapons there.

Police show up often in that area. And it is a place that most bazaar-goers avoid. The Vietnamese vendors section, located along railroad tracks, is much safer and more pleasant. “They don’t try to integrate with us, but they are nice, quiet and always tell you good morning,” said Jacek, who sells clothes at the bazaar.About 15,000 Vietnamese work at the market. Most do not rent vending stalls; they work for those who run the stalls. Some bring their entire family when they work.Polish wholesalers are a fixture of the bazaar. They start to work at 02:00 and finish about 10:00, taking goods to the vendors. Many even work Sundays.Some of their best customers are Russian vendors. International tourists love the bazaar, said a Polish woman named Daria who was at the marketplace on a recent day with a friend from Belgium.

“Every time I come to Poland, I come here,” said the friend, Sabina Birori. “The cultural mix is a big attraction, and it is possible to buy everything here.” You can buy colorful socks, traditional Polish scarves with flowers, even live animals, she said. Birori said something that incredibly surprised her was the cordial relations between police and vendors who carry products and goods of questionable legality.

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