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Another shred of progress has been bestowed upon the residents of Havana. It is not so large in the grand scheme of things, but it does make day-to-day life just a tad bit easier. The very first bulk goods store has opened in Cuba. This means Cubans can buy items in larger amounts (think Costco but with only 3 aisles), which is heavenly because the usual task of buying simple things at your local bodega can drive you to madness due to random episodes of missing items — i.e. lack of toilet paper, lack of olive oil, lack of napkins, etc. In Cuba, there is an unspoken rule when visiting your corner store — IF YOU SEE IT, BUY ALL OF THEM. It’s very possible that when you need butter, none of your local markets carry it, so you will go a month or two without butter. Thus, when you see butter, you buy 10 packs and freeze the rest. This squirrely behavior usually empties local shelves the second an item comes in stock.

The name of this experimental shop is called Zona+ which is located in Miramar, a neighborhood with good families and sometimes elegant homes. The shop has constant traffic of buyers since it opened 2 months ago. One of the main customers are independent business owners, those who own restaurants in their homes (paladars) and hotels in their home (casa particulares) who are jumping for joy that now they now get to buy goods in massive amounts at one place.

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Upon walking into the store, I looked up the aisles with a silly grin on my face. No more scrounging for toilet paper rolls one by one. I quickly ran to the isle and picked up not one, but two 10-packs like a giddy kid. The quality of the tissue is excellent too (compared to the low grade stuff found in corner stores).

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Another item I noticed flying from the shelves was beer. Earlier in the year, Cuba had announced a shortage of beer due to the massive influx of tourists. The State announced it was creating an extra brewery plant to create more Bucanero and Cristal (the 2 national beer brands). Well, it seems this vice can be satiated now by visiting Zona+ and picking up cases for the first time. Of course this stock runs out fast too, but that doesn’t keep private business owners from flocking in to get as many cases as possible. With the limited size of the store, the offerings could be bigger, but the word from above is that if all goes well, the State plans to roll out more Zona+ stores across the country. It is a nod to the business owners who need more goods at better prices. Although a few bulk items are sold at better prices, overall the shop does not offer wholesale (something that is in very high demand with the new private sector). So in reality, it’s not really the Costco of Cuba, because it is not truly wholesale.

My only creative note with the whole operation is the illegible logo. Driving past it, the letters appear more like “Jova+” than “Zona+”. Beggars can’t be choosers, and nobody is complaining. Business is brisk. And the best Cuban marketing is “word of mouth” anyways, and it’s spreading fast. Crossing fingers that the notion of “wholesale” becomes a reality soon for those trying to build their business. Step by step. Inch by inch. This is how we’re all living in Cuba.

(Photos: Sourced CCTV, by Michael Voss)