Prague in Depth: Shopping - Introduction

Get to know the Czech retail environment

With few exceptions, most every product or service that you could want or need today is available in Prague. The city these days is quite Westernized, and Czechs are in want of very little.

The difference here, compared to Western countries, is that the Czech Republic isn't (yet) a consumer nation. Because Czechs don't spend as much, a lack of competition means that many items -- particularly clothing, electronics, and household goods -- are often more expensive here than they are in, say, Germany.

(There is a trade-off, however -- Czechs have kept food and liquor prices low, which makes going out to drink and dine very affordable.)

Shopping as we know it now only really began after 1989 and everyone over a certain age is old enough to remember the old way.

Under Communist rule, there was very little disposable income to shop with, and an extremely limited selection of products to choose from in stores.

With only one or two companies manufacturing a specific product, quantity and selection were quite limited. In the 1970s and '80s, for example, only two companies -- Orion and Figaro -- manufactured chocolates and candy.

Those stories you've heard about people waiting in line all day for toilet paper? That actually happened here.

Under Communism
Before the Velvet Revolution, the only two places where you could find merchandise from the West were the black market and Tuzex.

Tuzex was that rare and wonderful department store where you could purchase everything from denim jeans to rare foods like bananas to sewing machines.

Special mention should be made of this most famous of Communist-era stores, even though it no longer exists.

Czech money was no good at Tuzex. Instead, you had to use either foreign currency or special coupons, known as "bony", and those vouchers weren't easily available (except on the black market).

You'll quickly find that those times are long gone and the situation continues to change and improve daily. Nearly everything and anything can be found here nowadays.

Perhaps this joke will help illustrate what life was like under Communist rule:

The American replies, "What do you mean, 'standing in line'?"

The Russian, "What do you mean, 'meat'?"

And the Czech says, "What do you mean, 'think'?"

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