Shopping in Tbilisi is very different experience from shopping in the villages and towns here in Georgia. However, Tbilisi shopping is almost like being in the United States. At the Station Square metro stop there is a mall and honestly I felt like I was back in the States. It was hard connect my brain to the fact that I was in a developing country while in the mall. The mall was really beautiful. There were many stores but mainly a couple of types in this mall; for example, clothing and shoes stores; appliance and electronics stores; book stores and jewelry stores. I went into the jewelry store that had rows and rows and rows of tables with all kinds of gold/silver jewelry on them. Conversation here seemed very hushed sort-of like being in church. The space was like a small auditorium with buyers walking up and down the aisles. It was so quiet I could hear the sounds that shoes make on concrete. The mall was air conditioned and looked brand new. There are western-style bathrooms with attendants situated in various locations in the mall. Of course, there was a food court and coffee spots sprinkled throughout the mall. For sure, this mall rivals anything the United States has to offer. However, Tbilisi shopping is more than just malls. Walk down the street and find store front after store front that house The Apple Store to the North Face Store and everything in-between.
Now, the malls are nice but I was looking for a shopping experience that was totally Georgian, so I left the mall and headed to the bazaar. Now, my eyes lit up as this is really Georgia (at least in my opinion). Wow, tons of people and all kinds of stores. There was even a Bank of Georgia settled in the middle of the bazaar. I spent hours at the bazaar as there were so many stores and kiosks along the way. The bazaar featured everything from fruit and vegetables to clothing (and beyond). There were a couple of toy stores and I was able to get a Frisbee for my host brother. I just loved going in and out of the stores and examining the items on the kiosk tables. I was even able to haggle over the price of an item and that was done with my limited language skills. The bazaar seemed to go on forever. I really had to watch my step as there were the "land mines" embedded in the street and pavements. What I mean is that the pavements were broken and uneven and I was afraid of tripping and falling. When I wanted to look at something I had to physically "STOP" and then I could really enjoy the atmosphere of fun and joy at what was happening around me.
The markets and bazaars are somewhat the same in the small towns and villages. They are big or small depending on the size of the community. For the most part they basically all offer the same types of items that are needed for living on a day-to-day basis. Some stores are so small that only one person at a time can go in. I am always afraid I am going to knock something over with my backpack when I go into a small store! One of the stores here in my home town has the carcass of pigs and cows hanging outside the entrance door. Some road-side stands offer an entire fish for purchase (with the head and all). I did not measure the fish but I bet it was at least two feet long or longer (now, how is that for a fish story). It is all just so much fun to discover what one will find.
Now, all those shopping options are great; however, the BEST experience I have had shopping here in Georgia was at the outdoor mall called LILO. Now, this is a mall like I've never seen before. It is situated between where I live in Sagarejo and Tbilisi. We have a marsh that will take us to the mall as it is on the road to Tbilisi. The mall is basically outdoors but it is covered over with a makeshift kind of roof that covers all the shops. This configuration gives the space a feel like you are walking in a tunnel. There are tunnels and tunnels and tunnels of shops or kiosks. It is a maze of little kiosks that are situated right next to one another and are on both sides of the aisle. I was getting whiplash trying to take in what was being offered on both sides of the aisle. My neck hurt from the back-and-forth motion. I was only there for a couple of hours and really only went down one or maybe two of the tunnels. The one tunnel I went down, I'll bet, had about 100 kiosks (maybe more, don't have a clue). It seems also that the tunnels never end. They just kind-a circle around and continue.
The aisle that you walk down in the tunnel MAYBE has room for one person and yet two or three people are always trying to squeeze by. You must keep moving in the tunnels. People put their hands on your back so that you don't stop moving. If you want to look at something you need to find a space near the kiosk that you are interested in and get out of the traffic lane. All the while, you need to watch where you are walking as there are BIG holes in the cement floor and there are grates that, I imagine, take care of any run-off rain water or whatever in the tunnels. Some of the grates are securely covered and some are only covered part of the way (more land mines for me, afraid of falling).
All kinds of things are hung from the make shift ceilings in the kiosk. These items do find their way out of the kiosk and onto the ceiling in the main aisle as you walk up or down. I found myself ducking and weaving to stop from being hit in the head with a cooking pot or basket or some item of clothing (lots of lady bloomers). It is like an exercise program in and of itself. I also felt like a boxer in a ring trying to dodge what was coming at me. In addition, because your view is blocked by whatever is hanging you can't see if anyone is coming towards you from the other direction. I cannot begin to tell you how much fun it was. My host family, who took me to the mall, is more used to traveling through the tunnels, so they kept looking back trying to find me in the crowd. Because I am so much taller I could wave and they would duck out of traffic and wait for me to catch up.
While all this is going on there are men who are moving stock from one area to another within the mall. They do this with a device that looks like a gurney that the hospitals use. The gurney is very narrow, as I would think it could hold one really skinny person and it is very low to the ground. It has three wheels, one in the front and two in the back. They pack the stock items to be moved one box on top of another so at times the boxes are so high you cannot see the person who is pushing the gurney. All you know is that you better get out of the way as the driver continuously moves as he cannot really see what is in front of him.
I have no idea how all this works, but it does. This may sound crazy but I absolutely loved every minute of it. I didn't want to leave but I could see my host father was running out of patience. There are places within the mall that serve food and drink and there is also music playing with a live band. Of course it was terribly HOT where I was and there is no climate control (HA) or windows in the kiosks. However, because you have to move fast in the tunnels it didn't feel that bad (and then again, I was not there long). I'm told that the mall has everything. I can't say for sure as I only saw a small portion of it; but there were kiosks for linens; dishes, household items (of every type); fans, bicycles (all kinds); lawn chairs; containers of every type; clothing, shoes, etc., etc. I was moving so fast through the tunnels that I am sure there were many other different types of kiosks that I must have just breezed by. I cannot wait to go back as it was so much fun. I have no idea how many people were there. I did see that everyone who passed by me, heading back to their car or to the marsh, had packages; so, business was booming. Also, there is a large parking lot for people who come with their cars. I don't know how many acre LILO encompasses but it is BIG!
The modern malls here in Georgia are nice; but, they don' really have the charm or allure that the Georgian bazaars, markets or LILO has for me. LILO mall calls to me every time I ride by it on the marsh. My shopping days are only just beginning; so, I look forward to more adventures and discoveries while shopping here in Georgia.
Catherine Lawrence, G14
Peace Corps Volunteer/Georgia
December 8th, 2014