Impressions From The Largest Street Market in Russia — Садовод

Садовод is an unbelievably large market that contains 8,000 shops and seems to continue on forever. However, the seemingly impossible abundant amount of whatever it is that their selling doesn’t actually make the organization of the space difficult to comprehend. The reason for this is that the layout and even the products are — for the most part — homogenous. There are many shops selling more or less the same counterfeit Calvin Klein boxer shorts or pot leaf socks. The counterfeiter’s range is limited but this actually enables the shopping experience by making it easier to navigate through the aisles without being completely overwhelmed by choice.

Rows of Denim jeans on display at Sadovod.

Я люблю Садовод

The middle of the “Mall.” Я люблю Садовод

In the middle of the experience a square somehow magically appears. With a sign that reads “Я люблю Садовод” and at this point I almost start to agree with the sentiment. There’s music playing, sunshine and the smells of food from the nearby shops. In the moment — being in the “eye of the storm” I almost start thinking to myself “I love Sadovod”. Strange what a bit of open space in the midst of chaos can do to you.

Whereas traditional capitalism offers real choice that is hard to fake. In the mainstream economy and marketplace you will find 100 different iPhone cases but with different features for each, one that charges your phone, camouflage cases for hunting, Selfie Stick, and on and on.
Porters push through the aisles with a seemingly endless supply of products.
Fresh bundles of products waiting to be unpacked.

On Selection

The imagination and creativity of the people who create counterfeit goods is limited to the “hits”. This model actually limits the variations and selection of products possible. A homogenous collection of shops makes it so that — despite the chaos — the selection is very concise and easy to understand. Need a wedding dress? Go to wedding dress land. Need a coat? Go to coat circle. Fake flowers? Go to flower lane.

A woman wearing floral camouflage and buying fake flowers.

How is it possible that Moscow can consume so many fake flowers?

The Sadovod website claims that shoppers arrive from all regions of Russia and abroad (Belarus, Ukraine, Azerbaijan) thus defining the term “Destination Shopping” and as such creating a demand for workers from these regions as well. One must look closer at the socioeconomic conditions of these areas to understand what makes all this possible.

The marketplace is a dream space for those who are looking for a better life. Many of the vendors seems to come from post-soviet and as such can make more money working in Moscow than they can, in say, Tajikistan. On the opposite side it is a place for the people to go to bargain and come away feeling like they got a good deal on their merchandise.

Porters gather on a break from moving around giant carts of merchandise.
Migrant workers are often attracted to the shopping center because of the amount of work available and the higher rate of pay than what they could make in their own country. With workers coming from so many places it’s useful to also think about where the customers are coming from.
Sadovod is located in the Southeast edge of Moscow

Shops for the other Shops to Shop.

Shops for the other Shops to Shop at.

Another interesting aspect of the Sadovod Shopping center is its orientation within/outside of the city. It technically rests within city limits inside the MKAD but is out of reach for people who depend on public transportation to get them to where they need to go. That brings up a big question of where the workers live while they are working there. Because it is so far from the center it somehow has to function as its own city even creating shops that service the other shops, like this one that sells, hangers, counterfeit Nike shopping bags (labeled with Nike® or Naik® depending on your personal preference) and mannequins to the other vendors.

Caloric Intake

Also, there is a need to supply the porters, vendors and shoppers with their caloric needs while they are going about their day. One thing that was striking about the mobile cafes (pictured below) is that it’s “open 24 hours” or rather they operate around the clock, point to the rhythms of the shopping center. The demands of this small self sustaining city extend beyond the opening hours of 5am-6pm to be functioning around the clock.

Kafe “Садовод”

Located on the other side of the MKAD are big retailers like IKEA and Mega. The relation of these stores to each other (the pedestrian bridge connecting them over Novoyegorevskoye shosse) you can see the consequences of certain planning decisions and the efforts to remedy some of them. Sadovod is strictly for cars but if someone wanted to cross to IKEA or Mega they would (and do) face some very unfriendly places for pedestrians to be. Was it simply an oversight that one can not cross between these stores by foot?


Same thing with different names. Loosing it’s authenticity brand names becomes an ornament — a sign without a reference.

Crisis of Authenticity

Sadovod is the market place of pre-marketing era. Modern global marketing doesn’t work for Sadovod’s customers. Brands do not mean anything here. Brand values? Brand management? All this words are meaningless here. Brands are status marks. But Sadovod is a place with zero status, a bottom of valorization, a place for economical survivors, a place where poverty is normal or, maybe, even a way of life.

Selling obviously counterfeit Adidas track jacket vendor argued for “good quality” of the piece. And quality in that case is the attribute of fabric which is supposed to be durable. And doesn’t matter that counterfeitness is easily recognizable — durability supposed to be one of the main arguments for Sadovod customers.

Who cares about authenticity? Ones who pretend on some status.
Rarely seen in other types of market spaces, here in Sadovod porters become a part of it’s landscape and daily routine.

Maximum Anonymity

Being designed and built from the scratch on the empty field Sadovod represents traditional type of open air trade fairs when peddlers gathered somewhere in the city and sold right on the streets. It’s the most natural and easy way to trade — do it right here right now. Such kind of trading doesn’t require special space. That’s why Sadovod is so generic in terms of space. There is not so many special trading features except for freight elevators. Sadovod is indoor equivalent of street or the streets under the ceiling. As on the city streets everything is supposed to be anonymous, spontaneous, metabolic, disposable, temporary and one-off here — rapidly built metal shelters of huge main trading hangar, anonymous trading companies and products without guaranties.

Such kind of trading can easily be imagined on the street of any city

Zero Privacy

We consider Sadovod as indoor street. Street is public domain. No privacy. It belongs to everyone and no one at the same time. It generates ridiculous and very local things — vendors have no proper workplaces, no office and no place for rest. They stand or seat somewhere between their products or stand right on the passageway trying to pick someone up. They have to eat, drink and rest right there. It originates entire industry of small food cars which serves snacks and drinks for vendors who can’t leave their seats. Another important thing in such circumstances is to build good relationships with your neighbours who would look after your trade point in most critical moments. That’s why vendors not only sell but also live in such market places. They make it habitual. And you immediately recognize it. You feel that you just entered the place with it’s own customs, habits and daily routine. You feel that you are guest here.

There is no separation between customer and seller in terms of space and relationships. On the contrary, in department stores or shopping malls space is divided into two separated zones — for customers and for stuff. And both zones also have it’s own private and public places — changing rooms, for example. It’s almost theatrical trick. This theatrical part of shopping experience sometimes gives comic effect when you see how waitress in his uniform smoking on the backdoor. You feel relative thing when you see artists with makeup and historical dress. As customer you feel yourself a master of this place (and it’s false sense indeed) because everything is made for you.

In Sadovod you never feel a sense of influence that’s customary in other shopping experiences; here, sellers are masters of the place and you, their guest.

It is middle of the day I am standing in the crossing of two aisles that seem to stretch endlessly wherever I look. The air is filled with a constant buzz of salesman screaming out their offers in broken Russian towards potential customers, adults browsing and bargaining for goods while kids running around from one shop to another wondering about the colourful items, porters trying to find their way in the crowd dragging carts of boxes and bags, and radio advertisements introducing with the special discounts and welcoming the shoppers to the grand Sadovod market.

I first heard of Sadovod in the Moscow metro from a joyful commercial inviting to the biggest market in city. Opened since 2008, Sadovod hosts over 8’000 shops and occupies 40 ha of territory in the south-eastern outskirts of the city, 30 kilometres from city centre. Surprisingly for a street market, Sadovod has its’ own website, which almost over-trumps some conventional shopping malls by a very polished online image: an exciting westerner shopping experience. The idealistic pictures of smiling couples and families engaging with the sellers in perfectly light and organized environment cause intrigue and doubt that has be clarified.

On a gloomy Sunday morning, we arrive in Sadovod. Huge flat hangars surround the territory is filled with cars parked between uneven terrain, holes and exhaust pipes. Although there are 9’500 parking places, it is hard to find a vacant space during the peak hours. In the flat steel façade, there is a sequence of numerated gates, leading to a shimmering interior.

The first impressions are shocking. The main building called the Rows of Things consists of small kiosk like shops along aisles. Although the shops are in a hangar, the grid network of aisles covered by skylights generate a dense street environment in two levels. Besides the main building there are departments of textile, gardening, weddings, fur and leather, bijouterie, animals and pigeons, in particular. It is a wonderland of things and one can really find anything within Sadovod. Unsurprisingly, the yearly flow of customers in the market is about 36,5 million, which is almost triple the population of Moscow.

It is inevitable to get lost within the streets of Sadovod, going through the numerated aisles, the division of departments disappears as interiors becomes exteriors and vice versa. The dense display of every shop merges any borders and perception of space. Either in the aisle or in the shop, the structure of the building disappears behind the countless amount of colourful, shimmering, repetitive items, and the only reference left is the ground one is standing on.

Customers attention is at the highest cost here, and everything is designed for attention, distraction and confusion.

Artificial flowers, fake Calvin Klein boxers, children toys, denim jeans, Adidas sportswear costumes, brands never seen before, watches, optical glasses, oriental ornaments, scarfs, corals, bijouterie, weird electronics, fishes, crabs, stingrays, leather jackets, fur coats, minion and panda hats, flowers, palms, kitchen supply, wedding dresses and suits, parrots and pigeons, seeds, maybe original brand bags, cosmetics, husky puppies in a cage with burning candles underneath, construction materials, broken mannequins, statues of princesses, shining Jesus images, lamps, clocks, camouflage, navy outfit, socks, flags, towels, hair ribbons, this list has no end…

The diversity, variety and quantity is overwhelming and exhausting. And the sellers know it.

Contradictory to the calm, almost fictional pictures on the website, most of the sellers, it seems, would do anything to get customers attention. There is no story or personal attachment to the things for sale, for they are not produced locally. Therefore, the sellers’ tactics are primitive, promote whatever is for sale and sell it for the highest possible price. In the western culture, such a communication would be perceived as aggressive and unattractive, but in Sadovod loud interactions, bargaining and vague emotions are daily bread and water. Those, who don’t speak this language, are simply tourists here.

Most of the workers in Sadovod are migrants, assumingly from the former countries of USSR. Due to heavy discrimination, it is almost possible for migrants to get a respectful job or even to rent an apartment in Moscow, even with higher education and Russian citizenship. In Sadovod, on the contrary, they can even own their own shop and make a good living, while some are searching for a temporary asylum and to gain money. In all the chaos, buzz and competition, it seems, there is also a local order and community between the workers of Sadovod.

The market is a city in itself. It is almost impossible to stand still in the crowd of shoppers with bags, sellers, porters pulling carts, saleswoman pushing food trolleys, sweepers, tourists and people hanging out, which is the population of these streets. Full of impressions and with one flowerpot, we leave probably the biggest trade center in Russia.