Old Town souvenir shops struggling to survive amidst tourism crisis

A souvenir shop in Vanalinn.
A souvenir shop in Vanalinn. Source: ERR

The coronavirus pandemic has all but stopped the souvenir business and entrepreneurs in the sector are struggling to find ways to survive, ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Monday.

A souvernir hunter on the empty streets of Tallinn's Old Town must maintain patience as quite a few storefronts will remain closed this fall.

However, "Aktuaalne kaamera" found one shop open for business despite the coronavirus. The vendor, Olga, described the lonely weeks where not a single tourist passes through. Local customers do not come around often either.

Olga said: "If people from Tallinn come, I always say: Please, we will lower the prices for you."

The emergency situation in spring will always be remembered as the total turnover for April was €3. One matryoshka key chain was sold. "But the turnover for March was €32. €253 in June. Terrible," the saleswoman said.

The view for Meened OÜ and its production areas is also bleak as the company's owner Madis Medri has had to lay off 21 people since spring. "It is a truly depressing sight. I do not understand why the state is allowing all this to happen. Why has the country turned its back on us?" Medri asked.

He and other souvenir producers and sellers formed a union last week and want to make their voices heard. "The entire sector has a yearly turnover of about €500 million. Companies need thousands of euros to survive in a situation where our whole season was canceled. The last profitable month was August 2019. We have been without profit for 14 months /.../ We have basically laid off everyone on the payroll, leaving only family and the owner," Medri explained.

Deputy Mayor Aivar Riisalu admitted that the current liberal market does not leave much opportunity for the city to help entrepreneurs. But going forward, Tallinn will begin to demand local produce instead of matryoshka dolls and amber, which are stereoptypically Russian-focused souvenirs.

Riisalu said: "You must learn a little from each crisis. We have learned this time that we must also look at the service's quality. Our clear priority will be local goods."

Liina Veskimägi-Illiste, head of the Estonian Folk Art and Craft Union, said: "We must be better ourselves. There have been shops opened, offering Estonian handiwork as well, in addition to matryoshkas and amber."


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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