Retail Trade and Services
Albania's militaristic supply distribution system had little
in common with the retail trade sector in the capitalist world
before 1990. The state fixed prices, determined which goods would
appear on store shelves, and paid shop managers and clerks set
salaries. The distribution system grew considerably after World
War II, with the ratio of shops to inhabitants increasing from
1:896 in 1950 to 1:278 in 1988. There were two supply networks:
one operated directly by the state, the other administered by
local collectives under state supervision. The state-run supply
network carried a narrow range of consumer goods that were, except
in rare cases, domestically produced. The Ministry of Domestic
Trade controlled about 85 percent of the state network. The balance
fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Communal Economy,
which managed repair and other workshops; the Ministry of Health,
which operated pharmacies; and the Ministry of Education, which
ran bookshops and art and handicraft stores. The collective-run
shops dealt mostly in farm-related products but greatly improved
the supply of consumer goods in rural areas.
The limited assortment and supply of consumer products available
through retail outlets forced Albanians to become expert at improvising
and dealing with shortages. The government imposed a rationing
system on all consumer items in September 1946 and did not lift
restrictions on nonfood items until 1956 and on food items until
1957. Cutoffs of Soviet and Chinese aid and failures in the agricultural
sector led to severe food shortages in the early 1960s and again
in the early 1980s, when the authorities reimposed meat rationing.
The rural population clearly depended to a large extent on the
personal plots of collective-farm members for basic food items
for extended periods. The state distribution system failed to
compensate for the loss from urban markets of produce grown on
personal plots after the government restricted plot sizes in the
1980s. Sales of food products made up about 61.5 percent of the
retail trade at about 10,600 shops in 1983. The total did not
take into account the commerce in goods within agricultural cooperatives.
Albania's economic planners neglected the country's service sector
to an extent unknown even in other centrally planned economies.
The economic reforms of the early 1990s broke down the barriers
that for decades had kept would-be-private entrepreneurs from
the retail marketplace. At first, peasants began setting up roadside
fruit and vegetables stands or carrying their produce to markets
in the towns and cities. Later, small shops, restaurants, and
workrooms opened their doors and began hiring workers. Soon after
the communist economic system broke down, the government privatized
about 25,000 retail stores and service enterprises-- about half
of the small state enterprises in the retail and service sectors--mostly
through direct sales to workers. One businessman, using French
capital, opened up import shops and duty-free stores in the country's
largest hotels. But supply problems hampered retail operations.
The new entrepreneurs also encountered problems with local officials
who arbitrarily imposed fees and license requirements based on
obsolete communist-era laws or on no laws at all. The owner of
Tiranė's first private restaurant, for example, complained that
officials demanded an annual license fee equivalent to about US$10,000.
In 1991 government officials were at work on a commercial code.
Data as of April 1992