Just like any European capital city, Riga has its fair share of generic high street stores including the likes of Zara, Oasis and Bershka. To the delight of many, 2012 saw the arrival of H&M, now at three locations in Riga. FYI, Riga is not home to any Primark stores. Any bags you see have been imported.
To spend your evening or weekend in true Latvian fashion, head to one of the big iepirkšanās centri or shopping centres. These are a pretty standard affair with a good blend of clothes, electronics, homeware and food shops, and plenty of cafes and restaurants for both quick eats and sit down meals. Alarmingly, two of the shopping centres are called galleries. Consumerism = art?
- Alfa (has a cinema)
- Riga Plaza (has a cinema and a bowling alley)
- Galerija Centrs
- Galerija Rīga
To avoid the masses and get some fresh air in between trying on your new clothes, you can also opt to do your shopping at the stores lining Brīvības, Tērbatas, Krišjāņa Barona and Čaka ielas in the city centre.
You’d be forgiven for thinking the average price of clothing in Riga would be cheaper than elsewhere in Europe considering the average level of income – alas no. People still appreciate every opportunity they get to shop in cities like London, Berlin and Warsaw because the prices are often cheaper and the selection is better.
Second hand shopping
Most of us love a classic brand – H&M, Next, M&S, Vero Moda, Kappahl, Zara. The difference is that in Latvia we don’t always buy them directly from the store. We lucky Latvians get all the good stuff from countries with a very trend-led and throwaway approach to fashion.
Many wardrobes are dominated by pieces inherited from Brits, Swedes, Germans and the like whose former favourites are given a new lease of life in Latvia where they’re sold by the piece or in bulk at second hand shops for as little as 40 cents a kilogram.
So normal is it to shop at second hand shops, that it’s common for friends and colleagues to discuss their latest finds at the shops around town, of which most are branches of the Humana and RDA chains. Last year, I bought my mum a posh green Irish tweed jacket for less than a fiver. It was practically new, had no visible signs of wear and tear and fits her to a tee! She’d received a compliment from her colleague the first time she wore it – what a great buy!
There’s no single area that’s known as the best for second hand shopping in Riga. You can try your luck along Avotu iela, at the central market and Riga’s mikrorajoni or residential suburbs like Imanta, Pļavnieki and Ķengarags.
If you’re a really keen bargain hunter, wait until the end of the month when Humana starts reducing its prices by 10% each day before renewing its stock on the last Monday of the month. Don’t be surprised to hear the music dimmed every half an hour. It’s when the sales staff put on their best voices to announce that: “Cienījāmie pircēji, nākamo pusstundu visa prece ar atlaidi – 30%.” (Dear shoppers, 30% off all goods for the next half an hour!”)
When they say “all goods”, make sure you don’t pick up an item from the exclusive rack. The prices on these are generally a lot higher and discounts don’t apply. This is often where you’ll find the nicest branded stuff.
While you used to be able to pick up really cool retro pieces for pennies, someone’s now realised there’s money to be made in vintage clothing. Recently, Humana opened its first vintage store on Ģertrūdes iela while other shops have noticeably upped prices on funky old tops and dresses.
For an experience to remember, visit one of my all time favourite second hand shops tucked away at the very back of the central market, near the exit towards the Zinātņu akadēmija (Stalin’s birthday cake) building. The lowly wooden building houses chest after chest piled high with clothing and you can find some real pearls if you’ve got time and the energy to rummage through them.
Buying clothes at the central market
It’s not just second hand clothes you can buy at the central market. As a teenager, I used to buy all my jeans there, at a specialist denim stall where the guy would ask you what style you were looking for, look you up and down for size (in public, keeping his hands to himself) and bring you a handful of jeans that fit like a glove.
For many Rigans, the market is still the go-to place for clothing. It might not be to everyone’s taste but the prices are lower and the quality doesn’t seem that different to what you can buy in stores.
If you can make it through the bling they like to put up front, you could find something decent that doesn’t have a terrible slogan or fake brand name on it. “Kickars” shoes anyone? “Cover me in chocolate and feed me to the lesbians” children’s t-shirt anyone? Both real.
We’d love to hear about the bargains you’ve found at both second hand shops and the central market!