- July 18, 2012
Vilnius market stalls — earning a livelihood and … surviving
Market stalls, little booths and kiosks are still alive with trade. All those trading places offer a wide range of souvenirs from Vilnius and Lithuania – religious paraphernalia, handicraft, amber or silver goods, paintings.
Lucyna sells souvenirs in the Old Town, next to St. Parakseva Orthodox Church, which was the site, among other things, where Abracham Petrovich Gannibal, grandson of the famous Russian poet Aleksander Puszkin, was baptised. She says that tourists are most interested in the souvenirs with the emblems of Lithuanian flag or the Chaser (the Pahonia). While at the time of graduation parties it was little clay bells with schools’ initials that sold like hot cakes.
— How much do I earn? Nothing comes for free. The stall, the taxes… If I make 400-500 LTL, it’s a good month. — says the 80-year-old woman from Vilnius opening her arms in a resigned gesture.
The kiosk where she sells her goods has been bought by someone else. The prices of the trading places vary, reaching even 10,000 LTL. And this also influences the rent. For her little contribution to the trade, Lucyna makes a monthly payment of 150 LTL plus social insurance (Sodra) and the ‘patent’ stating the right to perform the activity.
— I’m a pensioner. I sell the things I make myself. I eke out. My earnings are 30 LTL a day. I live alone and when I retired, I got really bored at home. I’ve been knitting for 40 years now. I can knit almost anything. My neighbour, who has a stall here, suggested selling the goods. She sells embroidered table cloths. In the summer, I sell hats, collars, little angels.
The commodities are really popular with tourists – says Halina, another pensioner from Vilnius.
You have plenty of time selling your goods, she adds.
People don’t always queue up.
— There are days when I get a lot of buyers, especially at weekends in the summer. But on most occasions, you can do other things when trading – says Halina, who puts the time into good use by knitting and then selling what she has made.
There’s a great demand for sweaters, socks and slippers. Your earnings depend on a month. Summer is the best time.
– The most I have earned was 1,000 LTL. But it was last year, when there were a lot of tourists from Poland. They like buying from Vilnius Poles – she smiles and sighs, saying that now Polish tourists don’t come so often.
Perhaps the attitude of Lithuanian politicians towards Vilnius Poles is the reason? She isn’t sure but she certainly earns less PLN…
The traders from Vilnius Old Town say that alongside Polish tourists, who come less and less frequently, the best buyers are Russians. They are the ones who pay the most. They buy without haggling. What matters is the appeal of the product. If they like it, the price isn’t an issue.
— I sell the paintings I paint myself. The prices vary from 20 to 1,000 LTL. I remember five years ago I was commissioned to paint the Trakai Island Castle in autumn time. It was meant to be a 90th birthday present from a grandson to his grandfather, who used to live in Trakai but 60 years earlier parted to live in Warsaw. The painting was to remind him of the day he left his country … I remember it was a friendly, young man. I really like buyers from Poland, I have a soft spot for them. Unfortunately, there are less and less of them now… It was the biggest commission I have ever had. I sold the painting at 3.000 LTL – says 72-year-old Kazimierz Januszkiewicz, a pensioner from Lentvaris.
He remarks that expensive paintings seldom go. He usually works on commission. He sometimes sells up to 10 of those little ones, postcard size ones. This way, after paying all the bills, he has 500 LTL for himself.
Sometimes, when inspiration comes, he can paint on the spot, while trading. He always has his painting kit with him.
In winter, he doesn’t sell paintings because the cold weather damages them.
Vilnius trading stalls sometimes offer very rare and old goods, which are valuable not only economically but also… spiritually.
The stalls are the place where you can hear life stories of the sellers but also of the artefacts themselves. Things also have their own stories, often equally appealing as those of their owners.
They are of great sentimental value to their owners, who, unfortunately, have to part with them.
— I sold away all the precious things I had at home. My pension is 415 LTL and I have to pay the rent and put something to the pot… I sell here illegally, secretly. I used to collect stamps. Sadly, I had to sell all my collections for mere 50 LTL. I also sell unique things. Recently, I sold a 70-year-old lamp. It was my mother’s … It wasn’t of great value, but to me it was priceless – the elderly Vilnius man says tearfully, adding that it matters whose hands his belongings go to.
— For a kind-hearted person, I can even lower the price. I have lived long enough to recognise kindness in people – he smiles.
Tłumaczenie Katarzyna Różańska w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Katarzyna Różańska within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.