A lament for the disappearing bazar
I will make a proud confession: I hate shopping. There is one exception, however, and that is the bazar. Not the small outlets offloading stolen mobile phones and bicycles, but the real treasure troves of old pots and pans, enamel buckets and furniture crafted half a century before IKEA.
I love them, a little bit less now after I moved into a smaller Prague flat, but still.
The joy of coming across an old curiosity shop on almost every corner – I exaggerate a bit – was one of Prague’s pleasures just over a decade ago when I moved from Brussels. I found items here that had already been elevated to the status of antiques in the Belgian capital or were already elbowing their way into those trendy, fit your flat up retro-style shops there. Actually, old Czechoslovak enamel advertising signs were already on sale in Brussels before I left for prices that represented a month’s wage in their country of origin.
My favourite sites could be found away from the rip off joints of the central Prague tourist drop zone. In the outer suburbs of the city, I could happily spend a Saturday morning making a tour of four or five bazars noting the turnover, price trends and chatting with the owners.
I say could, because now the Prague shops and the pickings appear to be on the wane. A handful of my favourite bazars have already disappeared. One, near Kateřinská, in Prague 2, closed when the friendly owner decided he was challenging his stock for antique status. Another, five minutes away, has been converted into a corner grocery and film hire store. A chilly basement store nearby, where the shopkeeper huddled close to his propane gas heater all year round, has become a beer restaurant. I could, sadly, go on.
One owner still struggling owner in Karlín told me the good old days when the low crown brought in buyers from the US and Western Europe are over. And it is perhaps the case that granny’s old wardrobe, dining set and portraits just don’t hit it off with young, upwardly mobile flat furnishing Czechs.
That middle-aged Karlín owner survived the 2002 floods although they dealt a death blow to many bazars clustered down the river around Libeňský Most. But I have the nasty feeling the days of her large warehouse could be numbered and it will sink under blocks of concrete flats or offices when the property market picks up.
Having said that, the dwindling stock of bazars can still come up with surprises.
I came across the destination board of an Edinburgh double decker bus complete with the rolled up list of stops a few weeks ago. I was shuffling the banknotes in my pocket before waking up to the reality that I really had no home to offer such an oddity.
The same location also offered a half century old dentist’s chair, electric drill and other accessories which I somehow didn’t quite take the same shine to.
Some business has no doubt transferred to the Internet, with real and virtual sales existing side by side.
At one bazar in Mariánské Lázně – not a great site for bargains in spite of the spa town’s former glory years – I had an interesting experience. The owner actually checked the last Internet bid on an ongoing auction before telling me how much he wanted for a 1930’s lamp. I wondered how the still online Internet bidders would react if they knew the object was already heading out of the door.
But there is no way the virtual world can trump the real one for junk buying. You can’t flick a piece of porcelain to check for cracks or try out a chair for comfort on the Internet. And sitting in front of the computer on a Saturday morning after a week of the same just doesn’t appeal.