MARKETS: Diverse food market thriving inside German zeppelin hangars

  • 2008-08-13
  • By Monika Hanley

HANGERS: Each building has its own speciality.

"Are you going to Scarborough fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" the Simon and Garfunkel number s actually older than you may think -- it dates back to England in the 15th century -- and just like the song open air markets are  pretty old. It would be nice if we could  say that markets are updating to the modern age: though this may be true in some parts of the world it just isn't the case yet in the Baltics. The fact is that street vendors have slowly been losing customers to department stores and shopping complexes, as we discover in one of our featured stories. The products that the markets sell may not be as local as you think  but there is something about the ambience of the markets that make them special places. They deserve to thrive and let's hope that they do. In this week's industry insider we take a look at open air  markets.

RIGA - The five towering hangars in Riga no longer house World War I zeppelins 's instead, they're home to Europe's largest market. Since 1930, the zeppelin hangars have been a symbol of economic growth and social well-being.
Connected by underground tunnels, each of the five hangars presents a different type of product. The first pavilion is for meat products, the second for dairy and cheese, the third for bread and produce, the fourth solely for fish and the fifth hanger is for bread and baked products.
Originally just for meat trade, the market evolved during the inter-war period to accommodate the growing population.

In the beginning, farmers could come to market to sell their goods as individuals, but during Soviet times, only state-owned collective farms were permitted to sell inside the market. However, independent farmers could still sell outside in little stalls, which historians say helped keep the market a thing of pride.
 Because of the market's strategic location on the banks of the Daugava River, fishermen are able to give market-goers the absolute freshest eels, fish and shellfish in the region.

Tourists and even locals are sometimes daunted by the idea that each individual hangar only peddles one type of item. For the vendors, though, this presents few problems.
"There is no real competition," Sandra, a bakery owner in the pavilion said. "If there is a line next door, people come to us and vice versa."    

For the majority of the workers and business owners operating in the market, the idea is simple. It costs less to set up shop alongside others and businesses even help each other out.
Sandra went on to say, "We sell here because it is cheaper and easier than having an individual bakery."
People still remember the Soviet times when they had to stand in long lines for bread, and it still plays a factor in their decisions, although most lightly joke about the similarities while standing in a three-person-long line.
The central market was not just a happy consumer coincidence. Since the early 1900s, city officials had been discussing the need for a large central market to unify the miss-mash of small, disorganized outdoor stalls. After purchasing and reassembling the German zeppelin hangars, a series of tunnels and freezers were built underground for storage purposes and to raise sanitary and health standards.

Although nowadays the items available for purchase in the market are often more expensive than retail chain stores, people still flock to the market for the atmosphere and the variety. With over 3,000 trade vendors and over 5 million lats in turnover, the market is proving to be a stable force in the Latvian market economy. 
More than just a place to purchase fresh and sometimes cheaper food, the five pavilions are also fine examples of a blend of architectural styles, from Art Deco to Neoclassicism.

"We don't have to work as hard because everyone knows we are already here," Ilona, a beekeeper and honey seller, told The Baltic Times. And she's right. The market has long been one of the top tourist sites in Riga, and due for a remodeling soon, the market is sure to grow