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Plea at Black Market: Baby Needs a Winter Wardrobe

October 22, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ Irina Polikova was indignant as she wheeled her 2-month-old son, Dima, in his blue baby carriage in front of the bustling crowd illegally selling children’s clothes.

With the capital’s first snowfall forecast Tuesday night and temperatures already inching toward freezing, the unemployed mother came to the black market to hunt down some heavy winter clothes for her infant.

But her budget couldn’t take it.

″The prices are horrible,″ Polikova said. ″If my husband makes 1,000 rubles ($1,800 monthly at the official exchange rate), how can I afford to buy anything here?″

Hundreds of people congregate daily on the sidewalk outside Magazin Malysh, or Little Ones’ Store, to buy, sell and trade items that require hours in line to get at state stores - when and if they are available.

In the West, people who buy items and resell them at a profit would be considered entrepreneurs. But in the Soviet Union, the practice is illegal if the sellers do not have government permission

Many of the people outside the government store fall into this category, and they are considered speculators.

Magazin Malysh’s shoddily made felt boots, ugly flannel shirts and uninteresting board games sell at relatively cheap, state-subsidized prices, but they rarely attract customers.

On the sidewalk outside, however, anyone who has a wad of rubles and is willing to risk the wrath of the police can pick up bright woolen sweaters imported from Iran, a pair of boy’s boots lined with fake fur, or children’s winter tights.

″I can’t make it on my pension, so I come here,″ said Nellie Ivanova, a retired 65-year-old engineer who was trying to unload boots, a pair of jeans and a shiny black Soviet-made hair dryer.

″The clothes were too small for my grandchildren,″ she said. ″The hair dryer was a gift.″

Olya and Sasha, both 22, stood hovering over their 3-month-old son Vitaly, who lay warmly bundled in his pram. An acrylic sweater, a blue work shirt, a plastic doll and a partially used bottle of French perfume were displayed on the infant’s blanket.

″I bought Sasha that shirt, but now we need the money,″ said Olya, when asked where she obtained the goods for sale. ″We had been expecting a girl, but now we’re selling the doll.″

Other people offered items they had bought with the intention of selling for a profit. Marina, who declined to give her last name, waited in line five hours to buy a pair of Polish children’s boots. She paid 28 rubles, or $50, and hopes to sell them for 400 rubles - $720.

The price is not considered high for boots. Marina bought them from a state store and hoped to find someone who would pay her price rather than wait five or six hours in line at the store.

The 22-year-old computer programmer said people had lowered themselves to speculation because they receive inadequate salaries.

In order to supplement her small pension of 250 rubles ($450), Galina Mikhailovna, 68, said she visited the sidewalk market twice a week. If she made a profit of 100 rubles, or $180, she considered her work profitable.

″How can I live when potatoes cost 3 rubles a kilogram at the market?″ she asked, as she tried to sell packages of Soviet cigarettes for 3 rubles. She bought them at a state kiosk for 2 rubles.

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