14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 12 December 2023 — “Retail Company No. 037.” The austere, colorless sign above an old public telephone and the pale, peeling two-colored wall are clear indications that this is one of Havana’s state-run stores. Specifically, the one alongside a market on 19th and B streets in Vedado.
Inside, however, the establishment has been “diversified.” On one side, an office area with Tuesday’s delivery — eggs, rice and coffee — to be sold to customers with ration books. On the other side, a privately owned business known as Zona K’liente that offers its customers home delivery.
The stark contrast between this new enterprise and its neighbor, the Soviet-style store whose shelves have been virtually bare for years, are no doubt a shock to customers walking in with their ration cards. Decorative cloth shopping bags hang from a wall, soft drinks and cookies are on display, and all manner of fresh and cured meats sit in its refrigerator. Of particular note is one of the store’s name brands: Cuervo, as in Alejandro Cuervo, the actor and company founder. And also the Spanish word for “crow.”
Initially, Zona K’liente carried housewares — items such as towels, sheets, bags and glassware — but has been gradually shifting to groceries at a time when the island is suffering from an extreme food shortage.
“I got only as far as the eggs when I realized I couldn’t afford anything,” laments an elderly woman carrying the few items she has acquired from the state-run store while taking note of Zona K’liente’s exorbitant prices. Paraphrasing an old Spanish proverb, she observes, “These prices are like crows; they’ll poke your eyes out.”
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