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Slovaks find better bargains in Poland

Banská Bystrica - Every weekend, scores of buses, taxis and private vehicles from all corners of Slovakia hit the road to shop at the huge flea market in Nowy Targ, a Polish town just across the border. There greeting them in the bazaar is a vast array of goods - from mundane cleaning products to exotic Polish workhorses. Why should a country market in Poland attract so many Slovak shoppers? Better bargains. Three Slovaks from the Rolnícke Družstvo farming cooperative near Žiar nad Hronom in central Slovakia, said they made the trip by charter bus "for financial reasons...We just can't afford to buy what we need at Slovak prices." The group said they had come in part for Polish strawberries - at 20 Sk/kg, cheaper by over two-thirds than their Slovak counterpart.


Lean deal. Strawberries, TV's, wicker chairs, and leather goods (even future ones) are all on sale for the right price.
Tom Reynolds

Banská Bystrica - Every weekend, scores of buses, taxis and private vehicles from all corners of Slovakia hit the road to shop at the huge flea market in Nowy Targ, a Polish town just across the border. There greeting them in the bazaar is a vast array of goods - from mundane cleaning products to exotic Polish workhorses.

Why should a country market in Poland attract so many Slovak shoppers? Better bargains. Three Slovaks from the Rolnícke Družstvo farming cooperative near Žiar nad Hronom in central Slovakia, said they made the trip by charter bus "for financial reasons...We just can't afford to buy what we need at Slovak prices." The group said they had come in part for Polish strawberries - at 20 Sk/kg, cheaper by over two-thirds than their Slovak counterpart.

But there's more to it than that. The majority of Slovaks who wait from three to four hours to cross the border and get to Nowy Targ are seeking the same kinds of items that they could buy on their home soil. The Slovak government, despite this mass exodus of cash into Poland, either does not know about the phenomenon or simply doesn't care. "You're the first person ever to call about this," said one official at the Ministry of the Economy. "We've never heard of it before."

Ján Onda, press spokesman for the Slovak National Bank, said he knew of no hard data on the numbers of Slovaks spending Slovak currency on Polish soil every year, but suggested that many of the same products available in Slovakia are cheaper in Poland because production and labor costs there are "commonly lower."


A four hour wait. Cars and trucks line up before the Polish border in search of bargains.
Tom Reynolds

Last fall, Parliament passed a law giving the Ministry of Finance the right to set maximum and minimum prices for goods on the domestic market. Suggesting this may be the reason that Polish goods are so much cheaper, Onda criticized the Finance Ministry for "freezing 95 percent of prices" on the domestic market.

A spokesperson at the Ministry of Finance denied that arbitrary price setting was the reason Slovak shoppers are buying staple goods in Poland. "It is not exactly true what Mr. Onda is saying," said Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Bruteničová. "There are some prices that we regulate, which probably make up only 5 percent of all goods, and we do that so that store owners don't enrich themselves."

Bruteničová also downplayed the money crossing the frontier and ending up in Polish palms, saying it did not amount to much.


Bonzai bargains. Hordes of Slovaks make the trip to the Polish town of Nowy Targ to find products for much cheaper than can be found in Slovakia.
Tom Reynolds

"Our laws allow people to buy goods up to 3,000 Sk," Bruteničová said. "If they buy more, they'll have to pay customs on it. So the loss of money [out of Slovakia] shouldn't be too large."

Yet Bruteničová conceded that Slovak citizens can spend up to 3,000 Sk on goods outside the country every month, meaning frequent return trips to Nowy Targ are possible. Still, Ladislav Húska, in the Ministry of the Economy's trade section, characterized this one-way trade as nothing more than "a private activity, [a form of] tourism...like [the many] Austrians and Hungarians who visit Slovakia" every year, he said.

Besides livestock, wicker and woodcrafts, homegrown produce and an assortment of Polish cheese and pastries, relatively little merchandise at Nowy Targ is Polish in origin. Household appliances, fabric detergents, shoes, shirts, jackets, leather goods and many other items were primarily of Asian provenance.


These little piggies really went to market.
Tom Reynolds

A Thai short-sleeved synthetic sportshirt cost 250 Sk in Nowy Targ, worth perhaps 350 Sk in Slovakia; a Japanese Panasound coffee-maker went for 500 Sk, less than a third of the price of most imported coffee-makers on the Slovak market; a clothes iron by the same manufacturer cost 300 Sk, while a Swiss Army knife with twelve functions costs only 80 Sk, clearly a steal anywhere.

These imported products can all be found at markets across Slovakia, but they cost more. Asked if the country's import surcharge, which was lowered from 10 percent to 7.5 percent on July 1 could be a factor for the higher domestic prices, Bruteničová answered that the import surcharge affects only 13 percent of all goods imported into the country. "It's hard to comment on the price policies of our country," she said. "One of the reasons why people go there could be that the crown is harder currency than the [Polish] zloty."

Special reporting by Martina Skočková

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