Kiosks: What is found on Polish streets?

In Kraków a young, long-haired man goes to a kiosk and asks
for a "gummka" (hairband). The salesman, asks: "For hair, or other
things?"…

From
hairbands to condoms – one can quite simply buy anything and everything
at these wonderful little stores: Kiosks. At the train station, on
small, scarcely travelled streets, next to schools, at bus stops, in
villages, in the mountains or along the coast: they can be found
everywhere. There are even cars that serve as kiosks, allowing one to
place them at the most opportune locations.

The very existence of
kiosks lightens the load of daily life. You can see them on every
street corner, providing the masses with newspapers, cigarettes and
candy. But kiosks offer even more: postcards, tights, lighters,
tissues, pens, grave decorations, bus tickets, tampons, batteries,
children’s toys, shoelaces, envelopes, telephone cards, books, shampoo,
ballpoint pens, deodorant, coffee, aftershave, razor blades and canned
food. Due to the law this list has but one shortcoming. Only stamps are
not sold at kiosks, a fact for which the salesman will always apologize.

They
can be recognized from afar and at first glance, since their appearance
is almost always the same: a four cornered booth which is often
fitted-out with wood and covered by a peaked roof. On the rear side of
a kiosk one can find a windowless door, while the remaining three sides
are made of glass through which all of the goodies held within are
visible. Perhaps the oddest architectural feature is the small
window-opening. Strange to say it is placed waist-high on the front
window.

The customer is obliged to bend over in order to request
something, and the salesman must always stand up to rummage through the
depths of the booth for the desired item. Although completely
impractical, new kiosks are still constructed in the same way.

One
finds kiosks between buildings and in almost any other place they can
possibly fit. When land ownership is unclear, given some time a kiosk
will surely sprout up. The floor space ranges from two to four
square meters. In kiosks limited quantities of the necessary items are
piled in the narrowest of spaces. Kiosks are the world of the small.
Cute and colorful they stand on the streets with a non-invasive and
natural presence. Each morning the salesmen carefully stack the
newspapers beside the boxes of chewing gum and pencils.

The windows are
cleaned and the street around them is swept clean. In warm weather the
salesmen sit in front of their shops and can be seen chatting with
customers and passers-by. In the evening everything is packed up and
the kiosk is strongly barricaded, because in less busy districts or in
the countryside burglaries sometimes occur. Mostly cigarettes are
stolen. The owners suppose that the culprits are young people without
jobs or money.

lllustrations by Fabian Hickethier

The
closing times are not set, so everyone sells for as long as he likes.
Longer hours mean more profit. Nothing is gloomier than a closed and
barricaded kiosk. Everyone wants to turn a profit, but the individual
sums are small. "It isn’t easy" says a women huddled next to a portable
heater on a Saturday evening. "But it goes well" she explains.
Sometimes customers ask for special items and she adds them to the
assortment that she offers, to retain their regular custom. The kiosk
belongs to her alone as do all of the colorful things found within. For
a small rent, in her opinion, she can run the kiosk at the bus stop and
sell what and when she likes. For an extra income she places various
advertisements at knee height.

In colloquial language the name
"Kiosk Ruchu" is used. The kiosk first appeared in the Polish People’s
Republic. In those days the "normal citizen" could rent a kiosk and
sell newspapers, cigarettes and hygienic articles. "Ruch" was
privatized recently and sold to a French company. Ruch`s yellow and
green booths stand out from the others with their attractive and
colorful design.

It is impossible to classify kiosks into any
sort of groups; trying will simply result in a headache. There is such
a large variety, and every kiosk offers its own unique selection. In
the past few weeks a problem occurred which troubles the people in
Poland. In connection with Poland`s application for membership in the
European Union, the Ministry of Health published a new ordinance which
will become effective at the end of this year: in all kiosks where food
is sold – and there are a lot that do – sanitary facilities must be
installed. That means a toilet and a washbasin. How can such facilities
fit into the kiosk`s four square meters and how will plumbing be
installed? The kiosks are simply located where is enough space. They
are built with little regard for such infrastructure.

In this way
the number of kiosks will diminish and some kiosk owners will find
themselves unemployed. What a pity. Up to now, you could be sure to
find just about everything at the kiosks.

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