Open air Market Sells Critters For Pets, Food, and Fur.
The center of pet retailing in St. Petersburg, Russia is an exotic experience not generally seen by the foreign tourist. While visitors to Russia often see the amateur pet vendors selling puppies and kittens out of baskets around Metro stations, generally foreigners don’t know that there is a large thriving professional group of pet dealers. These business people gather in the Polyustrovskiy Market on Saturdays and Sundays, when the market undergoes a transformation into the Ptichiy Rynok or “Bird Market”. Birds aren’t the only thing sold there. If you prefer animals as pets, food, or fashion accessories, the “Bird Market” has something to interest you. In fact, it would be difficult to think of basic pet supplies or animals that weren’t sold there. Despite being outdoors throughout St. Petersburg’s snowy winters, the Market sells tropical fish, canaries, parrots, turtles, Chihuahuas, and gerbils, all creatures better suited to warmer environments than frozen St. Petersburg.
How do they do it? Well, for one, fish are kept in small uniquely designed tanks with huge metal heating units beneath them. These units keep the fish living at the tropical temperature they need despite the surrounding snow. Nearby you can buy the kind of large home tanks they need to be happy fish, but for the weekends until they are sold they are displayed in these little temperature controlled fish-phone-booths. The birds live in similarly heated boxes, crowded enough that you can hear them saying nasty things in bird to perch-mates who flap or shove. Birds being territorial creatures, they seem to be more irritated by the crowding than more gregarious animals like puppies and kittens, who just happily snooze piled on top of each other in Plexiglas boxes. The puppy boxes are more low-tech than the bird and fish receptacles, however. Each group of thoroughbred cats and dogs is in it’s own crystal container, heated with hot water bottles made of old Stolichnaya and Pepsi containers. The thoroughbreds in the boxes look comfortable and contented, and seem to know that they are in a more privileged position than the dogs and cats stuffed into coat breasts.
The market actually has stages. Outside the main gate is a line of ordinary citizens hoping to turn a small profit from their pets’ amorous indiscretions. People stand about talking, each with the head of a tiny cat or dog protruding from their lapels. Animals range from lethargic, to complaining to simply cold. Thoroughbreds and mutts intermix, but papers are rare, and this is the cheapest section of the market. Inside are professional dealers in thoroughbred dogs and cats, mostly displayed in their heated Plexiglas containers. This section also includes various rodents like mice, rats, gerbils and hamsters. You can buy rainbow colored plastic exercise wheels for your rodent here, and view their optically interesting effect when in motion courtesy of an obligingly active demonstration gerbil.
The market then splits off into two rows: One for pet food, bird-cages and birds, the other with the fish, snails, frogs, and assorted accoutrements. One old gentleman hand makes dipping nets for fish, another has made a specialty of hand crafted wire mesh filters. There are tanks and pumps from every place from Japan to Poland, live worms, and a great selection of aquatic plants. The bird section also has it’s handicraftsmen who make simple beautiful function-as-form cages for only $1. For more money you can get imported Asian pagoda style cages, as well as an assortment of small birds to go in them. This section too has a wide selection of imported animal feeds, pet toys, and other supplies.
Ironically, both rows peter out into fur departments. The other main function of the market is as the main fur-hat market in town, selling as much or more than the two main department stores in town do combined. Also in this section is a large amount of tanned furs of all kinds, including hard to find hides like Persian lamb and weasel. For people who prefer to make their own fur clothing it’s the best source for materials. There are also a few coats, but not enough to merit a trip to the market.
At the tail end of the fur market is the fur/food animal market. This is where you will find rabbits, chickens, weasels, and (of all things) nutrias. Nobody bothers to give hot water bottles to the rabbits, but despite this (and despite their probable impending fate as Sunday dinner) the rabbits do not shiver, but simply sit calmly awaiting their fates as either pets or dinner with seeming indifference. The roosters, on the other hand, stand proudly on top of their boxes, daring anybody to eat them with intimidating beady eyed scorn. The nutrias, smelling the untanned hides of their brethren next to their cages, have to be kept contained to stop their escape. Intelligent as the beavers they much resemble, they know nobody is out to do them good. The weasels, similarly in tune with their fate, struggle in blind panic to hide behind each other in a corner of their cage, a writhing heap of fur.
Here too is a big dealer in dog harnesses, collars and various leashes, from the simple, to massive spiked B&D collars imported from Germany. You can get a delicate little poodle collar and retractable lead, or outfit your sled dog team, as your situation warrants. The animal market ends here, but after this, a very small but good flea market begins. After the flea market, the final section is for fishermen. Here you can buy hundreds of different new fishing flies, as well as the necessary drills for ice-fishing. Also sold are the distinctive Russian made metal tackle box/seats that you see local fishermen hauling to and fro on the Metro each weekend. So whether your idea about fish is to eat them or keep them as pets, the market has what you need to do it.
To get there if you are in st.peters burg: Take the Metro to Ploschad Lenina, then catch either T-Bus 3, 38, 43, Tram 6, 23, 51, or Bus 138. The Market is at 45 Polyustrovskiy Pr. opposite a small park. If you take the Tram get off at the park. It will be recognizable from the rows of puppy-in-the-coat sellers in the distance.