Huge shopping malls are among the many elements of the western consumer lifestyle that were totally unknown to Slovaks just ten years ago. But that is now about to change, as Shopping Park Soravia (SPS), Slovakia's largest shopping center, opened its gates on May 21.
Located near Bratislava's biggest recreation area, Zlaté Piesky, SPS bills itself as a "shopping and recreation park". But judging from size of the new center and the brand-name stores it shelters, it looks as if SPS will encourage spending over sprawling on the grass. The SPS center features a McDonald's, a Billa grocery store, an Nay electronic store, Stival and Stiefelkönig shoe stores and many others.
However, the center's remote location may discourage Bratislavans from coming to shop and recreate. The SPS is about ten kilometers from downtown, and is served by only two municipal tram lines and two bus lines.
"We have thought of that," said Pavol Murányi, the legal representative of Shopping Center Bratislava (SCB), which runs the SPS. "There are 20,000 square meters of parking space that belongs to the center. Most people come here by car, but we haven't forgotten those who don't own cars, and can get here only via public transportation. They have access to public transportation here."
Murányi said being so far away from the center didn't worry him, and the events of the first few days after the center's Grand Opening confirmed his belief: Bratislavans flocked to SPS to see what the megamall had in store for them.
SPS's 10,100 square meters of commercial space are divided among 24 tenants, varying from Tatra Banka's ATM machine which takes up only four square meters, to the Billa grocery store, the largest SPS tenant with 2,500 square meters.
The construction of the new center began in March 1997, and the project's last month involved a final spit and polish. The overall construction cost was 170 million Sk ($5 million), excluding individual tenants' investments and the price of the land. Low costs are one of the reasons that rents are only half of what one would expect to pay downtown. "Downtown prices are at least around 12,000 Sk a year per square meter, and most prices here are only half that," said Murányi.
The tenants were obviously pleased with their new space. "We are very happy," said Klaus Hammer, the Operations Manager of McDonald's Slovakia. "The location is good, there are so many cars that drive by. [According to our] estimation, at least 36,000 cars per day come through here. And that will be good, because we have a restaurant and a drive through restaurant here."
McDonald's does not pay per square meter, but turns over eight percent from its sales. "This is a good contract." Hammer said. "They know that if we are happy and have a good business, that it will be the same way for them."
Billa would not discuss its business as openly as McDonald's "[Billa management] decided on this place, in spite of the fact that it was not close to a densely populated area, because there were no better possibilities," said one high-level Billa representative who wished to remain anonymous. "Billa," the source said, "attracted other tenants."
The SPS center advanced Zlaté Piesky's ambitious plans to become Bratislava's future retail hub. What used to be a scruffy meadow surrounded by factories a few years ago, now accommodates a Baumax hardware store, an AWT automotive store and an ÖMV gas station.
Other new projects are springing up like weeds. SCB is already planning construction of two similar buildings within walking distance of the brand new shopping park. The first, scheduled to be finished in 1999, should have about 4,500 square meters of shopping area, allotted most probably to furniture and household equipment businesses. The second building, of a similar size, may have restaurants, discos and perhaps a few sport centers. SCB's Austrian partner, Soravia Park Garagen, has already promised to provide financial backing for the projects.