Latvian middle classes – do they exist?

For better or for worse the UK is a very class conscious society. I’m not commenting on the degree of social mobility that exists or whether class consciousness is a good or bad thing. I’m merely stating that everyone appears to be aware of the existence of a class structure within the society. One of upsides to this class based society is that the supply chain is developed to the extent that products can be purchased which fit all budgets.

I’ve not found in Latvia that the supply chain is as well developed. There is plethora of retail outlets catering for the super rich and a similar large number of catering for lower income shoppers were the quality of product on sale is not designed for longevity. This situation has become increasingly apparent during my brief time here, but the situation has become glaring obvious as we have tried to buy a new kitchen. We have found kitchens we like, but they are either way out of my budget or poor quality. It seems that due to low labour costs in Latvia, having a kitchen made for us might be the best solution.

So to the title of my blog. Where are the Latvian middle classes? If they exist then where do they shop? If they don’t exist then there are potential problems for Latvian society, because any society where there is a disproportionate division of a country’s wealth has the potential for civil unrest.

Now my question might have arisen because I just don’t know where to shop. Or it might be that the Latvian middle classes are such a small group that it is uneconomical to provide a supply chain for them. Could it be that all the people I’ve heard about who go shopping to Ikea in Lithuania and Poland are the middle classes. I’d love to hear from anyone who has had similar problems or if you think my logic is half baked.

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33 Responses to Latvian middle classes – do they exist?

  1. Daina Molvika says:

    Good article! Problem is there.
    1. IKEA is a good and reachable possibility. We know as well that the quality is not always there.
    2. Order at private carpenters.
    3. Post add or look for whatever you need at http://www.viss.lv

    best regards 🙂

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  2. nigel anthony musker says:

    Just spend 5 minutes researching the distribution of wealth etc in England and based on the civil unrest potential we should now have open warfare on the streets.

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  3. zin says:

    A shop called Elkor in Riga ir for the middle class

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  4. Latvian society is not class-concious at all thank god. It’s because we started from square one as a nation after WW1 and then once again after almost 50 years of Soviet occupation which has destroyed last traces of class identification in us (probably the only good thing it’s done). As you say England is something else and while I was living there it was fun to watch Hyacinth Bucket-like behaviour in some individuals. I was and still am amazed how ridiculous this snobbishness can get. And must say I don’t think there is such thing as class-aware supply chain in England – it’s just companies who have learned to cash in on aspirations and punters who happily follow certain buying patterns just to try to belong to a certain class..

    Forget all this class bollocks here 😉 If you need a good kitchen I’m sure with a bit of research and asking around you’ll find one that matches your price/quality requirements.. You won’t find a retailer with a bit sign ‘Shop For Middle Classes’ though..

    As for “Elkor” – it’s just a big shop and everything they sell on can get elsewhere for a significantly lower price.. I personally won’t set my foot in that shop ever again after a couple of years ago they came up with an advertising campaign offering special discount for non-citizens only.. http://www.kasjauns.lv/lv/zinas/78761/elkor-nepilsoniem-preces-tirgo-ar-atlaidi-pilsoniem–dargak

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    • aedoxsey says:

      Elko I was going to avoid, heard too many rumours about money laundering. Don’t want to encourage that. I think we’ll probably end up using the local carpenter who made a lovely bathroom unit for us.

      In an earlier blog I wrote about the a local village celebration we went to. One of the nice things about it was everybody danced with everybody regardless of who they were. I hope this lack of class distinction continues. However I suspect that as societies develop distinctions will occur. I just hope that as Latvia develops all it’s citizens feel valued and society values them.

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      • As a local, I can say that if you bother about money laundering and tax evasion, you will get a nervous breakdown trying to shop 🙂 This country is not yet that civilized, and will not be for quite some time still until the end of 20th century generations pass. It gets better, though every year.

        As for Elkor – yes, it’s generally is a pricey place. But, they have amazing sales, sometimes they just have an oddly low price on some less popular items (I got a few years ago a car kit for my 7.0″ Galaxy Tab tablet for 15 LVL (20 EUR) less than everyone else was asking, and it wasn’t a discount – just a regular price. A friend got himself a particular model of the notebook he wanted at great price he could not find anywhere.
        It’s also a good place to just walk and see what’s available on the market – these days I think it’s the only store in Riga where you can see the items on display – everyone else moved strictly to website stores and closed their big stores (example: Technoland was a 3 story big shop, now it’s a 35-40 m2 small shop/pick-up spot. Almost everyone followed this model, so Elkor became kind’a unique in that regard). So, don’t drop it yet, at least you can use it to see the stuff on display, inspect it in detail. Also, if you buy multiple items and sums become close to high 3 digits or 4 digits – ask for a discount opportunities – depending on what you are actually buying, they may surprise you (I wanted to kit out the kitchen, so when we put together the list it was around 3500 eur, I’ve got a 15% or 20% discount on the whole order. Was it pricey buying things on that list there compared to other shops? Hell yeah, but with that discount it was quite a different story, and one of the things I wanted was not available elsewhere, at least not without waiting like a month).

        As the actually kitchen goes, you are better of ordering it to be built for you – it’s the common way. USSR time flats most of the time are weird, kitchens tend to be smallish and that means that pre-built kitchens historically didn’t really fit in, so usually if you need a kitchen – you order one to be built to your specs. Usually ends up costing you less too than one you can buy on display in the store 🙂 But you really need to look for recommendations and watch out for materials that are going to be used – some of the materials have ridiculous prices.

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      • aedoxsey says:

        We have eventually ordered our kitchen from a local carpenter at much less than a ready made one. As the carpenter has already made a bathroom unit for us we know the quality of his work.

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  5. Joanna says:

    I sort of agree with you, but it has improved vastly over the years we have been here. As Daina said, IKEA is a possibility, because people collect it and you can pick it up in Riga. We used a local carpenter and this is how our kitchen turned out http://thejourneytosomewhere.blogspot.com/2009/02/finsihed-at-last.html

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  6. June says:

    I got my kitchen in Ikea and I love it. You can design it online and know exactly how much it’s going to cost. We drove to Warsaw for some of ours as it was a little cheaper. Even if you have to drive to Vilnius i think it’s worth it to know exactly what you’re going to get.

    Liked by 1 person

    • aedoxsey says:

      I’m struggling learning Latvian so you can imagine the problems I had trying to use Ikea’s kitchen design program in Lithuanian. The other problem is that Warsaw is a day and a half drive, so with hotel and fuel bills I’m not sure if it would save me money.

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  7. random latvian says:

    I know your pain, had lot’s of problems with finding a new office chair for home. The main problem is not even supply though that’s an issue too, it’s the overpricing – e.g. if you find a company in Riga that will order IKEA products for you, the prices they quote are so much higher that it would be cheaper for me to drive to Lithuania and buy directly from IKEA instead. For a single chair. With a petrol car and from further into Vidzeme than Limbazi. Pretty terrible. And that’s the situation for more or less anything – it’s either unobtainable or overpriced so much that it’s always better idea to go directly to the highest middleman up the chain you can get to.
    As for the chair, I ended up getting one from Jysk – it’s a Danish, I believe, franchise store in Alfa and other places in Riga. It’s the closest thing to both middle class quality and not vulgary overpriced that I have found so far. Also their website lists products on sale at every store, including remaining count. Neat.
    Lastly, regarding kitchen, we ended up doing what we could ourselves and relying on a craftsman for the rest. I’m sure you know by now, but it’s a bit of a gamble. The first guy I called sounded like a hobo after a bad trip, thankfully the second guy turned out to be a real marvel – gave tips on what we can do ourselves and how and didn’t cost much even though his minions cocked up and parts of the kitchen had to be redone from scratch due to incorrect reading of sketches on their end. Though the usual “it will be ready, when it will be ready” applies. And the bloke forgot a bag full of cigarettes that I didn’t examine too carefuly as I called him back but they looked like they had been smuggled into EU from countries where they are much less taxed. Fun times. Though nothing beats peace and quiet in your finished kitchen.

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  8. Lawrence Parramore says:

    Welcome to Ruritania! Seriously there is a class structure and there are snobs, even in the days of the Soviet Union there was a very rigid class structure, to the extent that people couldn’t get the education or go to certain shops unless they were a card carrying member of this or that and the higher up of course the more privileges they had! But many here don’t see it like that…. I think if you can find the right people and you have experience of good workers go with them, especially as you say they are cheaper than the UK, my experience is that their day rate maybe cheaper than the UK and I know one carpenter who costs about the same as in the UK but others…. well for example a neighbour had their sauna roof re covered, about the size of a small double garage, now in the UK if you had that redone in Tile where I come from it would take Jason and his 2 workers 2 days, one morning to strip it and they would have tiled it by the end of the day, and come back the next to snag and have a coffee and chat. Now my neighbours roof took 3 men, 3 days a week, for at least three months in metal sheets from fibre cement ones! You can ship things from the UK quite cheaply. As for the middle class, they for the most part don’t see themselves as middle class and live much the same as everyone else as it it seems many have not ventured abroad physically or through the internet, those that have tend to aspire to be upper class. There is a lot of Dunning Kruger effect here.

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  9. Juris says:

    Just my 2c. Go to IKEA in Helsinki (i.e. ferry from Tallinn). But I have a feeling that you will be happier if you shop locally. Really local.

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  10. Are there any big box hardware stores in Latvia? My wife and I just bought a kitchen, and we got it at a hardware store. We consider them to cater to a middle class customer.

    We live in Ukraine and moved here in 2011 from the United States. When we first moved here, our initial reaction was to ignore the big box stores. There are too many of them in the States, and we feel they push out smaller businesses. But the context is obviously different in Ukraine, and we find them to be good places to shop for the many home renovations we’re doing.

    We wrote an entry on our own blog this summer in which we talk about our shopping experiences here compared to that of the US: http://mypichka.blogspot.com/2014/08/somewhere-between-america-and-ukraine.html It’s not exactly about class and business, but you may find it interesting.

    This is the first blog entry of yours we’ve read, but we really liked it! Can’t wait to read more!

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  11. Angela says:

    Each country has its own economic situation with its own sections of the population sadalījumu- maybe you yourself here pieskaitat just another layer of yourself to inappropriate? It should be noted that your measure is still at England’s standards, but the moment you walk in Latvian and Latvian-size-fits are to be adopted.

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  12. Sanita says:

    The thing is Angela is right. There is Latvian standarts not the general world standarts. We do not have weath class as distinctive as in any other country. The thing is there is a very small gap between being poor and being rich in Latvia. For example, if You have a car, house/apartment and have a decent paying job – you will still be considered poor…
    Why?? because all merchandise people own is in loan. They can work at a company with 1000eur salary, but with all the payments for the necessary needs have been paid (water, electricity – basic utilities), there goes half of the salary and then comes actually the worst part – food.
    The prices are very high for the better quality products. Of course you can buy cheaper products, but in the long term it will reflect on your health.
    I know this from experience – I wasn’t allergic to any citrus fruits before 3 years. i could eat tons of them and no problem. But 3 years ago in Christmas time I ate tangerines as usuall, and after like 2 days I broke out in such a bad rash everywhere – face, legs, arms, back, stomach etc. Long story short – I am not allergic to the fruits itselves, but to the chemicals which have been sprayed on them for longer lasting. So now I eat one citrus fruit maybe per month and use anti-allergic medicine.
    So imagine how many people have the same thing as me and just do not have means to afford better.. I am lucky that my parents live in country side and we have our own garden where we grow everything ourselves – vegetables and fruits.
    After all the payments and the food has been bought there is very little or even none money left over. So the middle class is very small. The rich are so rich that there virtually aren’t any middle class left over.
    As for where to buy things – for home construction choose Kurši or K-Rauta. These are the places I go to shop for home renovation. Good average priced shops. In any case if you want to go shopping in Latvia – better to make friends first with us locals and they will take you to best places. well at least I do that to my foreigh friends.
    If You need any help I am willing to help!

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  13. Anna says:

    To add to what Sanita said, Depo is also a good shop for renovation things and stuff like that. Closest to Limbazi is probably the one in Valmiera. http://depo.lv/?page=veikali. But make sure before you shop, to get their client card, you can fill in the survey at the shop. There’re times price difference is significant.
    As for kitchen and/or other furniture I’d recommend this company http://www.kvadrats.lv/. The usual Latvian rule “it will be ready when it will be ready” applies, but the quality and price difference between this carpenter and “brand” kitchens is significant. At least was in our case- we had a particular idea of what we want and their offer was the cheapest. Though had to wait longer than we initially agreed, the quality is good.

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  14. TRex says:

    We fitted out our flat in 2007. All of the shops we sourced went out of business shortly thereafter due to the 2008 real estate crash I am told (and that makes some sense) but I’ve noticed specialty shops don’t seem to last long here regardless, at least those serving the not hoi palloi as you have mentioned. Our kitchen cabinets are Italian as are the kitchen/bathroom tiles + silk wallpaper & custom light fixtures. The bathroom fittings are German, custom parquet/doors/trim are Lithuanian. The only items that are of local manufacture are the curtains which are beautiful but the linen industry is dying/dead in Latvia, a shame really. Plus that shop is also extinct of course. I would never purchase anything from Ikea!

    We are not rich nor are we wannabe snobs, we built looking long term for possible resale in case the local political situation went south, wise in retrospect. We also have rental property which means we are very familiar with Depo, K-rauta & Krūza which are basic construction and accessories. Very basic.

    You might want to visit the site linked below. It’s not a plug, I don’t know them, it’s just that they might seem to know a thing or two based on this one thread I read.

    http://lifeinriga.com/useful-addresses-riga-renovating-home/

    I have noticed some time ago that there is a great success in internet based purchasing in Latvia as opposed to brick and mortar shops. I know several Latvians who are doing very well in the automotive accessory sectors and elsewhere. Perhaps you should investigate that for your kitchen needs?

    As an aside, Latvians have indeed learned the vice of class consciousness. They just don’t like to admit it. 😉

    PS: I learned of of you blog due to your remont efforts and feel some affinity. But your daily commute is an unparalleled horror, Good luck with that!

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  15. amaji says:

    About classes and shops for either “rich” or “poor” – ignore that. I suppose you could somehow define the class borders, but they would have to be so blurry that there’s no point. The middle class just uses the same stores everyone else does. Seriously. They may own 2 houses and 3 cars, have better than average jobs and not have considerable loans, but you still can’t really bet you won’t find them in shops like Labais. Just forget about it. The “rich” ones are the ones who go to the shops that look more or less empty, at least for clothing. 🙂

    Anyway, what I came here to say is that there is a rather simple explanation for the price/quality proportion. The market is small. Very small. In the end that’s pretty much the main reason why products of lesser quality can be priced higher than elsewhere. Basically all problems connected to pricing and quality in the end can be traced back to “it’s a small market”. Lots of vicious cicles in there that are too boring to explain. It sucks but it is what it is.

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  16. Lynx says:

    Where middle man shops in Latvia:

    Groceries.
    Typical Latvian middle man will go to Rimi: better products, nicer atmosphere- much better designed and organised than Maxima (Maxima is another major duopoly player in Latvia, but proud Latvians will never go there, especially after collapsed store with 54 fatalities in 2013), friendlier and less tired staff and many more reason to go there over Maxima, it’s like comparing Swedish car vs. Romanian car – Volvo vs. Dacia, some parts might be shared, but overall, Volvo is a better car. I could compare Rimi with Marks & Spencer food hall in UK.

    Sky- this is upper-middle class store, like Waitrose in UK, which is also considered as upmarket player. Sky is interesting store because there are some things you can’t find in other places, also you will experience a lot better service in that store: 1st- it’s quite, you will find it is quite almost all the time, 2nd- when it’s busier, there more tills working than anywhere else and at end of every there are schoolars who packs your bags while you’re paying- they are actually very accurate and does it very quickly, so you get through till very quickly. Prices- slightly more expensive than Rimi, but not that much, it just lacks cheap products, so if you buy good products in Rimi, you will find that same products cost about the same in Sky, it’s just question of service you prefer.

    Electronics.
    I saw some mentioned Elkor how good or bad it is. Elkor group has some nice and big stores in Riga, and they are generally the only one designed for middle-upper class people.

    I will start with bad things: they are/were involved in some TAX speculations, just like big players in UK and anywhere else in the World- everyone tries to avoid taxes. A bit worse- they were also involved in some money laundering schemes, so in that part, reputation is not good. Also there are some items that are not fairly priced, like everywhere, you must be careful with their pricing as some items really are overpriced, but not all of them.

    What I don’t agree with some comments here is that Elkor must be avoided at any time, here is my opinion why you could visit it.

    First- the actual choice of items is a lot greater than in any other store, they are whole-sellers and retailers at once, the choice is great and in their stores you can actually see many more displayed items, none of competitors can offer such a big choice of displayed items in one place, and this is a very big point for them.

    From personal experience- their returns policy works well, not as good as in UK, but still, they are ahead of other in Latvia. Try to bring back something to small Internet store, you will find it very difficult. Also small Internet stores, they offers small price, but no responsibilities, if item fails, you might be in trouble, as by law they has to fix, but in reality it’s big hassle to push it through. Also small stores sells faulty goods- the goods, which never passed first quality tests by manufacturer, they works, but with much higher risk of failure, as I worked in retail chain for several years, I know the background of small Internet stores and why they can offer that considerably lower price. Also they sells grey import, officially sells grey import- try to claim warranty later for those items, it’s the same as in UK- official warranty doesn’t exit on those items. And if you buy bigger goods like fridge or washing machine, and you live in your Limbazi, good luck with small stores and their warranty policy- in best case, Elkor repairmen’s will arrive (many small Internet stores buys from Elkor and so Elkor provides warranty, but there are terms which small stores doesn’t tell you- for example, when buying from them, in case item fails, you “should” get your faulty item to them, and then they will try to fix it, it will be very difficult to get technician arriving at your place if you bought item somewhere on the Internet)

    Summarising – Elkor is a nice place, their stores are a way better than any other in that segment, the choice of items is ten times better, they offer things other simply doesn’t offer at all- like legal blu-ray movies and console games, but this is why you pay more, just like in UK, Curry’s or unconfirmed Internet store, choice is yours.

    Clothing.
    For English guy I could suggest Stockmann, this store provides good choice of classy things, it is actually very similar to John Lewis, in many ways and if you liked John Lewis in UK, you will like Stockmann too. Stockmann could be described as proper middle-upper class store.

    Also Elkor, the same Elkor I mentioned before when talked about electronics, they offers a nice selection of clothes too. They are middle-upper class level, choice is good, lots of designers stuff and while some aren’t latest collections, on sale, you can get decent items for decent prices, a better deals than you’d get in TkMaxx. This is not true that all their items are priced 10x higher, some people simply doesn’t understand one thing- you can’t compare Primark vs. House Of Frazer. But this is exactly what most of Latvians does- they compares low quality cheap brand stores vs. Elkor- which sells genuine designers stuff. Yes, you may argue about same designer stuff in different countries, but I found many items are fairly priced, latest collections will cost you equally in Elkor and somewhere in London or Paris.

    But if you don’t like Elkor, there are some nice stores in biggest shopping malls too, Spice or Alfa could be described as middle class shopping malls through out with some cheap and nasty exceptions.

    Home- furniture.
    This is niche where Latvians really lacks any proper middle class store. The only I can imagine is Cenuklubs, but it has limited stock- they offers a bit of everything which means- it offers nothing. For home stuff we also have Jysk, which is cheap and nasty and is very similar to Cenuklubs with exception, that Cenuklubs sells branded items, but Jysk sells their own brand names- cheap replicas of quality items.

    There is also famous Mebelu Nams in Riga, Purvciems, which in reality, sells cheap and nasty things.

    Trip to Lithunian IKEA- this become as a trend for last few years, many goes there now. Just keep in mind, when travelling to Lithuania by van or even a pick-up truck, you have to pay a tax entering Lithuania, not very much, just to mention there is such thing.

    For wealthy guys we have Alfa Home mall which is designed for upper class mostly, stores in the mall offers mostly expensive things.

    Home- building & garden.
    Depo is a nice place to go, it’s like B&Q in UK, probably not the proper middle class store, but it has good selection of items of that kind.

    Yes, in the end I managed to write a blog in to the blog but I hope you will find it interesting and useful 🙂

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    • There is an option for furniture – we actually have in-country production of furniture, as we have a lot of woods, as the author may have noticed. But it takes some effort to actually find those, as they are not really doing advertisement and stuff a lot. It’s probably going to cost a bit more, but usually it means it will be built on custom order and to the specs you need. You can give it a try.

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  17. Hakko says:

    I consider myself middleclass. My shopping habits are as follow – I go to shops rarely with idea that everything sold there is overpriced chin*s sh*t and if I find something good then I can be surprised.
    Furniture – haven’t bought anything recently, but last things – kids toy box and learning desk made myself (as woodworking is one of my hobbies) – because were frustrated about prices and quality. https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=97AC40295D1942FB!448&authkey=!AMTT0RzJFUTUAxQ&v=3&ithint=photo%2cjpg
    https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=97AC40295D1942FB!520&authkey=!AOClChtylQXulMg&v=3&ithint=photo%2cjpg
    Also our neighbor is carpenter so we rather order some furniture from him.

    Kids toys – I buy them online from German online shop – toys sold here literally are chinese sh*t or highly overpriced LEGO etc.

    Clothes – also mainly overpriced chinese sh*t so I hate going shopping unless there’s really necessity – or my wife buys instead of me. Favored shops Monton, Zara and some other.

    Footwear – this is most saddest topic – as I prefer only good quality footwear there are just several shops which suits my quality/price level – Camel Active or working footwear from specialized work gear shops.

    Food – we have (as most latvians) relative who has eco farm 😉 So most of the vegetables, poultry, eggs ,sometimes beef and game we grow and get there. We also have garden in the yard so we grow there what we don’t get from farm. We live in Ikskile – there’s also Maxima and Super Netto, but I prefer local small shops – some of them sell eco production from latvian farmers.

    Appliances and Electronics – as most latvians I also know people who can get items directly from Also (IT and other electronics supplier) and others who can get directly from Electrolux group warehouse…

    So conclusion is that to my mind I spend much less money than other “classes” – both richer and poorer than me, because I really consider what to buy and if I really need it. Also by buying better quality items I guess I save more money than buying chinese sh*t. Lets say I bought new flat tv after 12 years of usage the old CRT tv, my AEG washing-machine works more than 15 years – already tired of it 🙂 Even My PC’s (I assamble them myself) some are more than 10 years old and still running fine (altho I give them away after 4 – 5 years usage – work specific needs for modern ones). So if you ask me – there are no middle class shops in Latvia.

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    • Hakko says:

      Also about economical/uneconomical to keep supply chains for middle class – I ask quite often at the shops – why don’t you keep good quality items. They usually answer – nobody will buy them! On what I say – if there’s no item – then for sure nobody will buy them… Also I ignore Latvian online shops – who lie about item availability – I order item which is written to be in stock and next day they call to say sorry – stocks has run out just before your order – but we will order for you for next week…

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