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Romanians Learn Hard Facts of Commerce

March 18, 1991

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) _ The new shops of Romania’s budding private economy are full of goods, but with jeans going for two weeks’ pay, most people can do little but look.

As Ion, a factory worker, put it: ″Since I earn only a few thousand lei a month, for me a lei is worth about what a dollar is worth to Americans. Would you spend $90 for a can of Coke?″

Private shops have sprouted in Bucharest and elsewhere, selling goods Romanians could only dream of before Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was deposed and executed in December 1989. Their prices, however, are a nightmare.

A can of Coca Cola costs either 60 cents or 90 lei, using the unofficial exchange rate of about 150 lei to the dollar. The price becomes $2.50 at the official rate of 35 lei.

For most Romanians, who are paid about 3,000 lei a month, either price is prohibitive.

Imported shoes are 2,500 lei a pair and jeans 2,000. Lipstick costs 250 lei and a pack of American cigarettes 150 at private stores like Intermercato, a Romanian-Italian operation.

Business has been good so far despite the high prices. Goods move through the shops quickly and officials say buyers are snapping up all available downtown real estate.

A report carried by the state news agency Rompres said 110,000 private enterprises had been registered since the revolution.

Shops obtain goods through personal trading trips by the owners or from state or private import-export companies.

At Intermarcato in Bucharest, a staff member said most of the items were old goods Italians would not buy, and ″better to sell them in Romania than to have them languish in warehouses.″

Catalin Chiva, an engineer, left Intermercato empty-handed, sighed and said: ″The difference between the average Romanian monthly salary and the prices in all these private shops is huge.″

To many Romanians, the prices smack of the black market under Communist rule. Some claim today’s entrepreneurs are yesterday’s black marketeers, or Communists, milking the new system instead of the old.

There is jealously of both the entrepreneurs and those who have money to buy from them.

Most customers of the new shops are Romanians who have used their new freedom to travel and trade abroad, or who managed to save large amounts under Communist rule because prices were low and there was little to buy.

The new entrepreneurs complain of discrimination by suppliers, nearly all state-owned, that resist economic change. A restaurant manager said he had to bribe them to ensure deliveries.

Ioan Goldberger, director of the National Privatization Agency, said many entrepreneurs built their businesses on state credits available to any Romanian.

He and other officials said the private sector could have been more useful to the general economy if it had concentrated on production rather than distribution.

Goldberger predicted the shops were ″headed for a rough time.″

″They are soaking up the population’s savings, the dollar black market price is skyrocketing, and in the end, no one will be able to afford their goods anymore,″ he said.

Radu Sorescu, who owns a snack bar, said: ″I know prices are high, but we hope the rest of the economy will develop and catch up to us. By that time, we will have built up our businesses.″

Alina Nicolescu, a student of architecture, is dazzled by the new life:

″We now have private discos,″ she said. ″We’ve got good quality clothes, shoes, food and drinks. It may be very expensive, but it’s better than nothing.″

End Adv Monday, March 18

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