14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 July 2016 – A week after its opening the store Zona+ still hasn’t received permission to offer its products at wholesale prices, Located on Calle 7th A, between 66th and 68th in Havana’s Playa district, it has a strong competitor about 300 yards away in the market on 70th Street, one of the most well-stocked in the capital.
The commercial slogan of the new store says that clients can find what they need there “and more.” Although it has not been officially announced in any national media, it’s already known that its most promising attraction is that it will operate under the concept of a wholesale market, one of the most common demands of private entrepreneurs, especially those who have restaurants, cafes, or rent rooms with meals included.
“We are just waiting for directions, otherwise everything is ready,” one of the clerks who identified herself as Sonia told 14ymedio. However, no employee was able to respond with certainty whether there will be some kind of identification required to shop there, proving a customer is self-employed, or if there will be a certain quantity of merchandise that is is sold at “warehouse prices.”
If it is compared to other stores that sell in hard currency, clearly its offerings are more varied, especially in the areas of food, cleaning supplies and personal hygiene items. The merchandise is also available in larger sizes and wrapped in containers appropriate for carrying larger volumes than would be needed by a customer buying for family consumption.
Such is the case for the 20 liters of soybean oil at a price of 38.40 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC). However, the new establishment is still a long way from parity with similar outlets of any chain in the international market in other countries. A man of middle age, with the aspect of a “man of the world,” on leaving the store expressed his hope that the store would continue as it is, clean, well ordered and with pleasant air conditioning. “The problem is we have no ‘fixer’ to ensure this and we can confirm that a new broom sweeps clean. Come and check at the end of the year,” he said, with a certain air of skepticism.
The store manager, Javier Muñoz, explained on another occasion that there is an intention to open two more of these markets in Havana, which, according to his version, can be supplied smoothly because the “necessary reserves” exist. Some optimists see in this step the unmistakable sign that soon the creation of small and medium enterprises will be allowed, which could not exist if they had to purchase their inputs in the retail market.
Some of the products sold here, like boxes of frozen chicken pieces or the sacks of powdered milk, belong to the group of goods whose prices have recently been lowered on a widespread basis. These offerings, however, do not appear in the all markets and here they do have them, but that does not mean they are selling at wholesale prices, which has generated confusion about whether Zona+ will be allowed to do that.
The custom of announcing as fact what is intended has resulted in many people thinking this is already a wholesale store, but even if all the workers are optimistic and predict that the authorization will be here soon, the truth is that it still is not working under that definition.