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The Basement Shops of Sofia

Street vendors are a common sight in cities across the world. The inability to pay high rent, or the unavailability of cheap commercial space, have pushed these small merchants on to streets, and in some cases, on to basements, as in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia.

Known as klek shops, these basement shops are unique to the city of Sofia. The shops are set in the basement of the buildings containing a small window that opens in the sidewalk, usually below the knee level. This is why they are known as “klek shops”—klek means knee. Products are displayed outside on the sidewalk, but to order something, customers need to squat and peer into the window and into the dimly lit face of the trader inside the basement.

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Klek shop owners were some of Bulgaria’s first entrepreneurs after the fall of communism more than twenty years ago. When communism fell and private ownership of production became legal, these were one of the first small businesses to appear. Basements were turned into small shops, catering the passing citizens for drinks, snacks, alcohol and cigarettes. Colorful, glass-covered shelves around the window show what the shop has to offer. Sometimes, instead of the actual wares, pictures are displayed.

Some klek shops even did shoe repair and other kinds of service-oriented businesses. Many shops remain open till late at night and sometimes even 24/7.

Unfortunately, klek shops are slowly disappearing with the time.

All photographs courtesy of sograph/Flickr

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Sources: Popupcity / Bulgaria Observed

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