A Well-Stocked, Privately Owned Small Business and an Almost Empty State-Run Store under the Same Havana Roof

Items for sale at Zona K’liente stand in stark contrast to the products customers can buy with their ration books. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 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 austere, colorless sign above an old pay phone on a pale, peeling two-colored wall is a clear indication that this is one of Havana’s state-run stores. (14ymedio)

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.

“These prices are like crows; they’ll poke your eyes out.” (14ymedio)

“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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