27 May 2011

Russian Village Autolavka On Wheels!


A visit from the autolavka is a shopping and social event!  This autolavka always has cheerful music playing.  The trucks stop under the birch just beside our house.

How do we food shop all summer with no car and no store to walk to?

Zaloze, our summer village, is isolated, much more so than most places in the USA.  It takes around an hour to get here from the train stop at Peno, by car-taxi over bad asphalt and then a long dirt road, at  a cost of 700 rubles ($24.60) one way. 

Our little settlement was founded in the late 1800s, was part of a collective farm during Soviet times, and is now around 32 houses owned by dachniky, with only one couple wintering over.  Most people don’t have cars, so we rely on Dima’s rugged Neva to get us from the train and back.  It’s just too difficult and expensive to make runs to Peno, the railhead and pasolick -agricultural center- in between times unless a neighbor is willing to give a lift.

In my mind it’s better to spend a vacation where you are not tempted to return to the city frequently for dentist appointments and errands.  Once you are ensconced in the village, you’re here without interruption for months.

Many people don’t realize how much some things have stayed the same since the end of Soviet times. 

The government still owns small stores throughout villages and towns that sell alongside newer private chastny -grocery stores- the new competition.  But how does the government provide stores for the many summer people who live in otherwise abandoned settlements such as our little village?

The answer is by avtolavka... a store on wheels.  Lena arrives with the driver of her standard Soviet style GAZ truck around noon every Tuesday.  He already had stopped at the baza -wholesale supplier- in Pena before getting Lena. 


Lena weighs and wraps in plastic.

Riya and her husband’s come by every Wednesday and Saturday morning in their new Gazelle compact truck purchased with their own money last year.


Always shiny clean!  Many commercial vehicles in Russia have no signs on the sides.  It would help the business but may attract some  attention that isn’t so welcome.

Both women have typical small producty -grocery stores- in Zabelina... Lena’s government-run and Riya’s private.  Their town is between Pena and Zaloze, just across a bridge where the asphalt highway ends.


The spark plug of her family.  The abacus is used to keep a running total, but a hand calculator is used to figure item costs.  Most things are pre-weighed and packaged.

Raisa’s autolavka is by far the best.  Her family has a lot of money invested, so they strive to please, even bringing still warm bakery goods from the bakery her son Ruslan has started next to her store.  His bread is still warm when we buy it.  The black and grey breads are fabulous for toasting! 


Ria’s husband off loads some boxes and works his puzzles.

Soon Ria plans to expand her mobile meat selection by adding a freezer.  Now it’s limited to kolbasa, maybe a frozen chicken, and canned meats.


Grocery items come in smaller packages than in America.

Government employee Lena makes pretty much the same money whether she makes an effort or not.  Her selection is less, quality is lower, but the prices are generally lower, too.


With Lena, there’s more waiting in line, nothing off loaded to peruse, everyone waits while things are weighed and packaged.

So change is slowly coming to even the villages of Russia.  The life of an entrepreneur is challenging most anywhere, but my hat is off to the people here who are willing to assume risk and try to innovate.

Thank you for your comments!  We answer with a comment, too!  Just click comment on the next to last line of this post.


  1. Great page, Robert!

  2. Robert, this was a delightful window into life in the more distant reaches beyond the capital. thank you for sharing it! I would love to experience life in the avtolavka for a week! I enjoy your posts and insights into this wonderfully different world we inhabit with our Russian spouses!

  3. Hi Jennifer!

    Yes, I hear Washington is asking why Russia has autolavkas and America doesn't. Now we have a wealth of three visiting our little village. You're invited to come shop in this unusual way, and then stay as our guests for the rest of the summer!



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