DRAGOMIR DIMITROV, „VAZRAZHDANE MARKETS“ EAD: WHILE PRESERVING THE SPECIFICITIES AND UNIQUE CHARACTER OF “ZHENSKI PAZAR MARKET“, WE ARE TRANSFORMING IT INTO A MODERN URBAN SPACE
We focus on one of the landmark locations in Sofia, the vividness and authentic urban architecture make it a tourist destination. Zhenski Pazar Market is the oldest market in Sofia, established soon after Bulgaria’s liberation from Ottoman Rule, which gradually transformed into the most influential and prestigious trading centre in the 20th century. What are the plans for the market and what is the interest in it – we will find out more from the executive director of Municipal Company „Vazrazhdane Markets“ EAD Dragomir Dimitrov in an interview for Focus Radio’s morning programme “Good Morning, Bulgaria“.
Host: Mr. Dimitrov, you’ve been the Executive Director of the Company for two years. From the public perspective, Zhenski Pazar Market is the place which has always been of major interest for the residents of Sofia. What do the numbers show?
Dragomir Dimitrov: Yes, this is true. Zhenski Pazar Market is truly an attractive, historical landmark in the heart of Bulgaria’s capital city. It has always been of interest to Sofia’s residents, because generations of Sofians were raised with the food, sold there, this is where they have been shopping. It is a living part of city’s history. Therefore, this is not merely a regular market, but a market, which is part of the history of Sofia’s development, of the food, sold there. This makes it different and more interesting than all other markets on the territory of the municipality. As a municipal company, we are trying to develop, to preserve it, to preserve its specificities and make it an attractive and interesting place. Our efforts are focused in this direct, and numbers show that the interest in it, in terms of visitors and commercial aspects, related to the renting of properties and trading areas there are extremely good and permanent. Approximately 60 000 people per day visit the market as an annual average, and municipal company’s revenues from the development of that market are sustainable, very interesting to analyse, showing a truly excellent trading environment, where both merchants and the public find their proper place for trading.
Host: You had ambitions to change Sofia residents’ attitudes towards the market environment at Zhenski Pazar Market. Do you think you have managed to do that yet?
Dragomir Dimitrov: This is a very long and complex process, of course. It cannot be contained only in market management’s concepts and ideas, as I see them, because while developing this concept, we were perfectly aware that it will take time. This is a matter of management of social professions, which – of course – we are administering. We are somehow creating the environment, changing it through them. However, what we have managed to do, is that we have developed a concept, which – while preserving these specificities of the market, preserving its unique and interesting character – would transform it into a modern space, urban space, since every urban space needs development. We believe that the modernization of the urban spaces of the markets will save them from the competition and from the way they, more or less, could degrade, competing with other shopping options, such as the large chains and various other retail options on the market. The modernization of the market, and in particular – the Zhenski Pazar Market – would make it an attractive, social space for the residents of Sofia, where they would enjoy going to. Speaking of modernization, what I mean is that various components of the modern urban environment should be introduced. We have planned the installation of charging stations for electric vehicles. We are currently installing cutting-edge CCTV, new LED lighting, we are replacing shutters. The canopies are the most modern and the best possible components for the market environment. And also – this would improve the urban environment, which is a part of the market and would turn it into a truly attractive place for the residents and visitors of Sofia.
Host: We are now talking about the modernization of this place, but let us say a few more words about the novelties to be implemented at Zhenski Pazar Market. There have even been ideas of online deliveries.
Dragomir Dimitrov: Yes. This is a common revolutionary idea, which I can explain this way. Since people now have very busy everyday lives, time is highly valued and very limited in the life of every person. In Sofia, this is even more applicable, since distances and commutes are really long. Everybody wants to eat good food, real food, with guaranteed good origin. This is an ambition we have – to review the options to deliver all this food to people’s offices and homes. We are currently developing a platform, along with the very mechanisms, to be applied very soon, probably as early as this summer, so that we can start offering this service. Then you will be able to order food. And we would guarantee the quality of such food, i.e. the Company will provide guarantees, and not only the merchant, since we are going to inspect the food, before it is delivered to client’s office or home, and we will know what we are sending. This will facilitate a lot people’s shopping. And this may subsequently bring them to the market, so that they can see with their own eyes, where their food comes from.
Host: Along with all this good news, also important are the matters of cleanliness and security at the market. Are you coping with these issues now?
Dragomir Dimitrov: Cleanliness and security are probably the most important components when forming the market platforms. This was among the first things I started dealing with, when I became Executive Director and I believe that at present, we have solved almost completely the issue, related to the security and cleanliness of the market. Of course, there is always more work to do in this respect, but we have proven that the market is a clean and welcoming area – both Zhenski Pazar Market and “Dimitar Petkov“ Market , as well as the other sites we are managing. At a lot of places we are already replacing the CCTV. We have opened an office of the Third Police Precinct at Zhenski Pazar Market – a thing that also contributes to the public security. We have installed LED lighting almost everywhere, both along the streets and in the areas between the stalls, which guarantees the security and safety of the visitors, even during the dark hours of the day. Of course, we have many good practices, we have introduced together with 3rd Police Precinct, the Capital Directorate of Interior, the Sofia Inspectorate. We work together, because the achievement of these objective can only be the result of the joint efforts of all the institutions, responsible for the residents of the city.
Host: Zhenski Pazar Market can now be considered also a tourist destination. Why, however, you have decided to promote the market to the tourists and have you observed more visits?
Dragomir Dimitrov: Yes. It is, indeed, a tourist destination in itself, we have not made it a tourist destination, but we have established the necessary conditions for tourists to start visiting, we have contacted tour operators, who operate in Sofia, we have contacted people, interested in architecture, urban planning, urbanists, who organize such tours, showing foreigners the history of Sofia, and interest has proven to be significant. Our responsibility is to create the environment, where tourists would come. We have developed the plan, telling the history of the market in Bulgarian and English, using old photos. We have also facilitated in all possible manners, the access to the market and we have done everything possible to make sure that this is a mass process. The market on its own is a historical landmark, and we, creating these conditions, indeed managed to bring tourists here, which is a significant part of a large-scale process, which we discussed in the beginning of our conversation – the process of changing this urban space and making it a more modern, more attractive and more interesting location. Once here, tourists will bring with them a certain type of investors, who will invest in specific locations of the urban environment, and these will then be used by the residents of Sofia.
Host: The market is definitely popular also for the producers, working there, the Bulgarian producers. Let us say a few words about them. How many of them are there? How is the renting of the stalls and other trading areas going on? Let us note that there recently there was a competition for new pavilions and stalls there.
Dragomir Dimitrov: This is a part of our policy. A part of our policy is to attract actual producers. This has always been the case – producers selling on this market. They do not sell their products anywhere else. And we are trying, as part of the tradition of this market, to retain this sector of producers, since is not possible that only goods and products of the respective producers are directly sold here. This is not the case anywhere. However, we are trying to retain this specific sector of producers, who sell their produce on the market during the spring, summer and autumn. These are mainly producers from the Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Veliko Tarnovo regions, who traditionally have been selling their products here for years, and whose products we consider to be the basis of the online deliveries, we discussed earlier. A major part of the stalls, offered at the competition, are only accessible to farmers and there are no free stalls left in this sector. So we are preserving this nature and this specific element with the producers of Bulgarian goods and products on the market.
Host: What are the developments then, in the market space of another popular location – “Dimitar Petkov“ Market?
Dragomir Dimitrov: „Dimitar Petkov“ is a very well working market, very popular among the residents of Sofia. It has a certain specificity – the flowers sector develops there. We have entire sectors in that market, only selling flowers, bouquets, and this is where many residents of Sofia go shopping for flowers during holidays, and this is where many shops replenish their stock as well. This is vital for that market, since this is its specific feature, and it also provides good revenues to the municipal company and the municipality, in terms of development of this sector. In this respect, we have done everything possible to retain this specific appearance of the market, to preserve its popularity as the place in Sofia, where the flower trade is blooming and to provide all necessary conditions to traders, who visit it and sell there, to find themselves in an excellent environment, with excellent conditions to sell their commodities. All Bulgarian flower importers and producers sell on this market, so that this in itself is a pretty clear indication of its importance for the urban life.
Host: And finally, Mr. Dimitrov, I would like to ask you to share with us a few words about another place, hosting numerous events during the summer months – the Cabana Cinema. What will happen with it this year?
Dragomir Dimitrov: Yes, this is the Amphitheatre in front of the National Palace of Culture or the Summer Cinema in front of the National Palace of Culture, this is the name by which the people of Sofia know it. In the past it was even called Globus Cinema. This is a truly specific place. It is among the very dew perfectly designed and perfectly located summer stages in a city, and according to the concept we have developed, it should become a landmark space for the development of culture in Sofia. Although there is a bar there, operating that space, the focus must be on culture, cultural events, the focus on children, adolescents and generally, people interested in art. According to the concept we have developed, this place should become a key cultural space, uniting people’s interests and enabling them to come into contact with the performances of Bulgarian popular artists, high-quality movies with exceptional content. And to spend their time in a very pleasant and good environment. This summer we managed to implement this concept to a certain extent, and I hope that in the future, in the next few years, we will be able to fully implement it, as the Sofia Municipality should carry out parts of its cultural programme on that stage, as well. And the criteria for the selection of performers there, are truly serious. I believe that we will be able to turn it indeed into a landmark cultural space, where the people of Sofia will be able to spend well their summer evenings.
Source: “Focus” Agency