Next to Russia, Kazakhstan is the most popular Central Asian country today. It is also the largest and wealthiest among the former Soviet Union states. It used to be Soviet Union’s space center, and today the world famous Baikonur space port is one of the country’s leading attractions. Offering diverse climate, rich culture and traditions, and vodka-party-loving people, Kazakhstan is fast becoming a major tourist destination in this part of the world. Regular international flights now connect its capital city of Astana to more than 25 major cities in Europe and Asia. Shopping in Kazakhstan is centered in Soviet-style city of Almaty, the largest city and former capital of Kazakhstan.
On Rozybakiyev Street in Almaty is a huge and modern shopping mall called MEGA. Records reveal that more than 30,000 shoppers visit the mall on weekdays and about 60,000 on weekends. The record attendance is 108,000 people in one day. Opened in 2006, MEGA showcases more than 100 shops and boutiques, a food court that serves 700 diners, 20 cafés and restaurants, a wide entertainment park for children, three cinema houses, skating rink, climbing wall, and bowling lanes. The shops are clean, bright and orderly, selling different kinds of goods that locals and tourists might look for. MEGA in Almaty is just one mall in a chain of modern shopping centers found in Kazakhstan’s’ most major cities, such as Astana, Shymkent, (largest city in the South), and Aktobe (known for its natural oil and gas reserves). Taken together, the MEGA shopping mall chain is worth about 62.8 million US dollars.
Meanwhile, the leading supermarket network with retail stores throughout Kazakhstan is Ramstore. There are 11 Ramstore supermarkets in Almaty alone, two of which are called Ramstore Hyper, which offers several shops, restaurants, movie theaters and entertainment centers. The first Ramstore shop is the one found on Furmanov Avenue, which opened way back May 14, 1999, along Almaty’s famous shopping street. The supermarket stands alongside a row of trees, snack areas and fountains. Nearby are the equally popular Republic Square and TsUM Department Store, which is famous for its souvenirs, crafts and gift items. Kazakhstan crafts are so charming and rare that they’re hard to resist, even by those who did not really intend to buy them. Other Ramstore supermarkets are found in the cities of Astana (five stores), Aktau (two stores), Karaganda, Shimkent, Oral and Atyrau.
A popular gift or souvenir item to take home from Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries in general, are rugs, and the best ones are sold at concessions in the National Museum and Art Museum. Asian carpet is an important commodity when shopping in Kazakhstan. Buyers are sure that the rare pieces of rugs for sale here have the necessary papers to legalize the purchase, making sure that buyers can take them home. Authentic Kazakh carpet is much cheaper than those sold in Europe and America but they are still quite pricy. Another equally rare find in Kazakhstan supermarkets is caviar. Glass jars and tins of caviar are sold fresh and very inexpensive. What amount of caviar costing $200 in the West may only be sold at $3-4 in Kazakhstan.