Main Archives on the rules of street trade in pre-revolutionary Moscow

December 5, 2020

Moscow was a bustling trading city over a hundred years ago. It had mobile trade (with salespeople carrying goods on vendor trays) and stationary commerce (booths and kiosks). Everything was put on sale — from foods and haberdashery to furs. Of course, such enthusiastic and versatile activities had to be regulated and put under control. The Moscow Main Archives (MMA) contains documents of the City Duma and the Municipal Council, which describe how the authorities regulated street trade.

In the early 20th century this was a fairly urgent issue as a result of conflicts between shopkeepers and free street vendors on Sukharevskaya Square. The former sold goods from kiosks and paid rent to the city treasury — from 400 to 1,000 roubles per year. The latter sold their goods right on the streets free of charge. They complained that they were ousted from the streets and sustained losses. When such cases were investigated, it transpired that these small-scale artisans and traders occupied much more space in the streets of the city than even the shopkeepers that paid rent. Indicatively, they sold basically the same things: repaired second-hand goods from iron and copper, rubber overshoes and other items.

As distinct from the shopkeepers, the street traders could sell their goods at a much lower price. This is why trade at lawfully rented places was unprofitable by definition. This was the case not only on Sukharevskaya Square but also at other market venues in Moscow. Moreover, shopkeepers had to observe a host of strict rules which did not apply to street vendors who were selling at places free of charge. Naturally enough, shopkeepers were unhappy about this. The existing Rules for Renters of Places on City Squares, in Passages and Boulevards for Daily Trade from Kiosks and Stalls (that are kept in the MMA) noted that stalls must be erected only in strictly defined locations. They had to be built from durable materials, covered with an iron roof and painted on the outside with oil colours determined by the Moscow City Council.

Renters were supposed to keep the stalls in good condition and quickly mend any defects. All goods had to be kept inside rather than displayed outside for sale. Any rubbish had to be removed immediately.

Food products had to be kept on clean shelves and be protected against dust and dirt. If foods were sold alongside other products, they had to be separated.

If the Moscow City Council deemed it necessary to stop trade from a kiosk or stall and vacate the premises before the expiry date of the paid term, renters had to comply with this. True, renters were offered 10 days for the final sale and dismantling of their stalls and received reimbursement for the unused time.

It became obvious that mobile street trade had to be regulated as well. After spending several years on elaborating and discussing draft rules, in 1910 the Moscow authorities adopted mandatory resolutions on trade from vendor trays and for delivery.

According to the new rules, street vendors could not occupy space on pavements. They were only allowed to stop for a short break and sell goods on the edge of a pavement. They could even put up racks or stands to put on temporarily their trays with goods. Other trade accessories were prohibited. Vendors who delivered products were not allowed to use the pavements at all. They also had to carry a numbered badge from the City Council and wear it on the left side of their chest. The same badge was put on their tray or on the vehicle carrying their goods.

On the other hand, from now on street vendors and other persons who did not pay rent to the city were officially allowed to occupy vacant spaces in the markets but of a strictly determined size (no more than two places on 1.5 arshins; one arshin equals 71.12 cm.). They could put their goods on the ground, trays, stands or baskets or in hand-driven carts. However, when trade was over, they had to vacate the free places on the same day. In this way the Moscow authorities managed to put street trade in order.


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