Big changes planned as Prague's Holesovice market goes upmarket
Holesovice market is the largest in Prague and attracts 12 million visitors a year. Fruit and vegetable stalls are perhaps its biggest draw, though it also features some regular shops, and lots of Vietnamese stalls, selling everything from knuckledusters to fake designer clothing. Now its operators are working hard to modernize the market and clean up its image. They have even given it a new name: River Town Prague.
I spoke to some shoppers by Holesovice market's fruit and veg stalls.
Elderly woman: "I like coming here, because I can choose fresh goods. As for the quality, well I must say I don't go for the absolute cheapest stuff - for me it has to be fresh and nice. I've been coming here once a week for around six years."
Middle-aged man: "It's cheap here. It's cheap and it suits me. The prices are definitely a third less than you would find elsewhere. Some of the fruit and veg here isn't such high quality, it's a bit squashed. But when you choose carefully it's fine."
Holesovicka trznice (also called Prazska trznice - Prague market) is in Prague 7, not far from the Vltavska metro station. And it's huge - over 100,000 m 2. Its operators say over 12 million people a year come here to shop. Most of them are Czech, but some tourists also find their way to the market.
But it is not so long ago that this space served a rather different purpose, to say the least. Jan Charvat represents the company Delta Centre which operates Holesovice market.
"Originally the whole place was Prague's major slaughterhouse. For decades it was used for slaughtering cows, bulls, sheep...everything. In the '80s they stopped using the area as a slaughterhouse and it became a Prague market district, in a way that is still preserved to this day."
Is it fair to say that a lot of people travel long distances across Prague to come here for the cheap shopping?
"Yeah, of course. Cheap shopping, clothes, the fruit and vegetables market and a lot of discount sale."
Delta Centre say that in its current state Holesovice market does not meet the demands of the 21st century. When their plans are realised, this "trznice" will be hardly recognisable to those from Prague and elsewhere who have been coming here for cheap shopping for two decades.
But getting back to the present, alongside the food and veg - and regular shops such as Bata shoes and hardware outlets - there are many Vietnamese market stalls here. A small number are selling dangerous looking weapons: knuckledusters and flick-knives, as well as the more exotic oriental nunchucks (two sticks joined by a chain) and throwing stars. But many of these stalls are selling counterfeit goods, knock-off imitations of brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Puma. I put this issue to Jan Charvat.
"I must say firstly that with the new operator the amount of seized counterfeit goods is nearly zero, which is proved by the recent searches done by the police and the Czech trade inspection...so we were one of the lowest in the country for selling counterfeit products.
But of course it's a problem and we are working hard to solve it. And one of the things is that the not really good looking Vietnamese stands and Asian stands, which don't even meet sanitary or fire protection standards...in a couple of months we will start to build a whole new part of River Town with an Asian market, with the unique atmosphere of the exotic East, on a high aesthetic level with pagodas, with really stylish buildings for both indoor and outdoor shopping."
Another aspect is that there's a brothel I believe on the premises of the market. Will that remain, or are you planning to make some changes in that respect as well?
"Of course we are not really happy about it, but I must say that Delta Centre inherited the contract from the company that was operating the market before. So we are working on it too."
So do you think for example in two or three years there will still be a brothel here?
"That's nothing I can really make a clear statement about, because our lawyers are working on the contract. Of course we are evaluating all the possibilities as to how to deal with it."
In the meantime operators Delta Centre are concentrating on other changes to the market. Jan Charvat continues.
"The whole area should be transformed into a living space that will be open both day and night. In the day of course the vegetable and fruit market will be operational, there will be stands with outdoor and indoor sale at a really higher level, with outlet shops, brand shops and other chain stores.
In the night...soon a big disco club will open, one of the largest in central Europe, with all year round cultural events, show events, fashion events. The goal is to preserve some of the less expensive product range, but also to attract the high-end customers, I would say."
The new name of Holesovice market is River Town Prague. Across the river in Karlin, which is an area that's really booming now, there's a place called River City Prague - it's an office complex I believe. Is there any connection between the two names?
"Yes, the river, obviously! The Vltava River. We are on the banks of the Vltava River, and 'town' symbolises the bright future, I would say, which is it will become kind of a living town, with entertainment, shopping opportunities."