Sale of Serbian department store marks the end for socialist shopping

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The Independent Online

For almost half a century, Serbs who needed anything from a hairpin to a piano would make their way to Robna Kuca Beograd, the biggest department store chain in the Balkans.

Shoppers could start on the ground floor for buttons or haberdashery, work their way up to coats, sturdy boots or travel bags, and end up in furniture on the top floor.

One of the most popular prime-time television ads in pre-war Yugoslavia even boasted: "Finding love is important in your life, but you can find everything else in Robna Kuca Beograd."

But this week saw the end of an era as the state-owned chain, crippled by debts of more than €100m, was sold for €360m. Robna Kuca Beograd stores always occupied prime locations, even in smaller towns.

The layout was always identical: underwear, stockings, knitting and sewing items on the ground level; ladieswear on the first floor; children's clothing and equipment on the second, with menswear on the floor above. The top floor was for home appliances, furniture and musical instruments. Food halls were located in the basement and each floor had a playground for children. "For years, it was like – OK we need this or that, let's pick it up at Robna Kuca," Ruzica Bogdanovic, 81, a Belgrade resident, recalled.

But the nationalist wars of the 1990s reduced the chain to white elephant status. Slobodan Milosevic led Serbia into isolation and its economy collapsed. Regime change in 2000 led to a massive upheaval as foreign chains began opening mega-stores. Robna Kuca could not compete and went bankrupt in 2003.

The new owner is Radomir Zivanic, a car salesman, backed by a Greek development company. He has not yet revealed his plans, but simply said: "We want to bring back the old shine. I'm overwhelmed by emotion. I was born in Belgrade and Robna Kuca means a lot to me."