- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
March 12, 2004

Protecting Produce: Municipal authorities want to rid capital of street-side sales

Surrounded by noisy conversation, dirt, old and new shoes and the miscellany of a busy city street, spring greens and fruit find their place on the ground one next to the other. A short distance away there is pickled food open for dust and for consumers and in the front there are bakery products in the same uninviting environment. Nearby a man with questionably clean hands and dishes invites everyone to have sausage and khorovats (barbecue).
Spring brings the blossoming of street-side sales.

On the territory of Yerevan 's Firdusi market, spring brings new trade to streets exhausted by the grip of winter.

A phenomenon of the post-Soviet years, street trade makes an exotic scene for tourists, but is a troublesome issue for city municipality and for healthcare specialists.

Under Communist control food products were cautiously controlled and sold only in shops or markets. Today, regulation is hardly apparent and specialists don't know where the next alarm of some disease, contagion or stomach infection will appear from.

“I lost count of the years during which we've been struggling against street trade, but there's one thing for sure which is that this phenomenon is a real misfortune for us,” says chief sanitary doctor of Armenia Vladimir Davidyants. “This time even the mayor got involved in this difficult problem, but the result is not known yet.”

About this time almost every year, along with an increase in produce, there crops up debate by authorities over how to get rid of street vendors.

“We occasionally find different pathogenic microbes in food sold in the streets,” says Marietta Basilisyan, Deputy Head of Hygienic and Anti-epidemic Control Department at the Ministry of Health . “Stomach infections, germs of various diseases, which besides the diseases themselves, can also cause food poisoning . . . Each time we use those facts to warn the residents and to call for the authorities to be more careful.”

Like every spring, this year officials are promising to be more firm in regulating the street vendor business. According to Karen Gevorgyan, head of Trade and Services department at the Municipality, this time the measures to get rid of street trade in Yerevan will not be of a temporary nature.

“Our people have to start having a sanitary culture,” says Davidyants. “If a person buys some suspicious meat, cheese or bread sold right on the ground and doesn't get bothered at all, let's at least hope that moving to markets will help to understand that it's not worth it to be too careless about your health for the sake of several drams.”

By April 10, the municipality plans to have designated selling areas and built tables and structures for the sale of produce and food goods.

Feet and meat meet on the street..

“I sell greens and different vegetables,” says Margo Hakobyan, 60, who conducts her business on the open sidewalk. “We have to pay a lot of money to stand in a market. Here, we pay the police, but not that much.”

Whereas sellers such as Hakobyan are a fixture of nearly every main street crossway, over the past years permanent produce markets have operated at about 30 percent occupation, in part because sellers didn't want to pay stall rental.

But now an agreement has been reached with owners of 13 produce markets throughout the city whereby the fee for renting selling booths will be dropped from 500 to 1,000 drams (about 85 cents to $1.70) to 200 drams (about 40 cents) per day.

Without the overhead of paying a market owner, buying produce from the street is cheaper enough to attract buyers to the independent sellers rather than to markets.

“In fact people buy suspicious food from the streets saying that it's cheaper,” Basilisyan says. “By saying cheaper, it means 10, 20 or in best case 50 drams, as a result of which they can get a disease and spend a lot of money on treatment, while they can go to stores or markets and in some aspects to be confident and it will be easy to have control over it.”

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Flying High

In anticipation of this weekend's visit by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, workers put up flags on Mashtots Avenue in Yerevan. At first, Armenian and Georgian flags were placed, but the Georgian ones had to come down when it was discovered that the design was wrong.



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