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Shoppers Empty Stores Ahead of Next Round of Price Increases

January 4, 1990

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ Shoppers have virtually emptied State Store 122 of its goods because the switch to a market economy is driving prices up and Poles figure everything will cost more next week.

″I had heaps of sugar and flour, enough to last three months, but when the year came to an end people bought everything out within a week,″ said Teresa Sasin, who manages the food store.

″The day after New Year’s I had a delivery of 500 kilos (1,100 pounds) of sugar and it was sold out within an hour,″ she said, gesturing toward the empty shelves. ″Same with eggs. Ten crates were sold out in an hour.″

Similar scenes have been reported in state-run grocery and meat stores around the nation Thursday as customers stock up before prices are raised again. Some stores closed because they had nothing more to sell.

Prices have been freed as part of a radical economic plan designed by the Solidarity-led government to end central economic control and subsidies and, after an initial spurt in prices, halt the inflation that has plagued the moribund economy.

Electricity went up 600 percent and the price of gasoline doubled this week alone.

Food prices are supposed to rise more gradually - from 25 to 50 percent a month - to cushion the shock. Prices increased this week in stores that received deliveries based on new prices for January, but others still were selling goods at last year’s prices.

Private and cooperative groceries, which charge higher prices than state stores, also were crowded.

″We’re still operating on old prices so people are buying everything they can get their hands on,″ said Jadwiga Dzierecka, director of Agricoop No. 1 in Warsaw.

The Agricoop chain is a cooperative soon to be become a stock company under economic legislation passed by Parliament last week. Its stores sell an array of cheeses, fresh produce and imported foods, including canned shrimp and Italian pasta and olive oil.

″Our products are so attractive that people still buy,″ Ms. Dzierzecka told a reporter between telephone conversations with suppliers.

Halina Samsel, co-owner of a vegetable stand in Warsaw’s busy Hala Mirowska market, said she had raised prices but was confident people would continue to buy.

She was charging $1.90 a kilo (2.2 pounds) for tomatoes, 17 cents a head for lettuce and 84 cents a kilo for fresh mushrooms. Average monthly pay in Poland is about $37, or 350,000 zlotys.

Ms. Samsel said with a smile: ″The prices are shocking. Customers get upset. They are not used to them, but they buy. There is no other way out.″

Jan Kubajek, sales director of a wholesale supply house run by the state, said Thursday: ″This unrestrained way of introducing new prices is unacceptable. Retail firms don’t have enough money, so they are delaying payment and we’ll have to limit deliveries.″

Kubajek said his warehouse supplies sugar and flour to more than half the city. He said enough stocks are on hand for current needs, but he expects problems later.

″Prices for many social groups will be unacceptable,″ he said, which means sales will decline and many stores may have to close.

Agriculture Minister Czeslaw Janicki told the newspaper Zycie Warszawy in an interview published Thursday there would be no interruption of food supplies.

″There are no rational reasons to fear this,″ he said. ″There are no disturbances in food production.″

Janicki acknowledged, however, that Poland had to import 300,000 tons of grain in January and that meat reserves had fallen to 65,000 tons, half the nation’s monthly consumption.

Farmers have complained about the rising costs of fuel and electricity.

″The avalanche of price hikes has already started and this is only the beginning,″ Tadeusz Zablocki, a farmer from the Baltic coast, told the newspaper Dziennik Ludowy. ″Production costs in agriculture will increase enormously.″

Butcher shops often are empty by early afternoon.

″There is a real problem with meat,″ Ms. Sasin said. ″It was the worst holiday season I can remember in years as far as meat and sausage go.″

Janicki said he hoped farmers would begin selling their reserves soon. Many farmers have held products off the market, waiting for price increases.

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