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50 Ways to Make Some Money

The death of communism in Albania brought a flourishing market economy to life just as it did across Central Europe and Russia. On the streets of Tirana people are buying and selling, trading goods and services in predictable, or sometimes novel, ways.
The shops are the most obvious expression of this. The streets are lined with little stores selling almost everything you could want. Freed from the choking grip of state bureaucracy Albanians are now at liberty to buy whatever they can afford. No matter how absurd the demand, someone will create the supply. Hence the preponderance of shoe stores in this city of muddy streets and torn up footpaths. Especially outlandish is the fashion for high heeled white boots - about as impractical a style of footware as could be imagined.
Dotted across the city are the market stalls, sometimes just one person selling bananas, elsewhere a whole street lined with sellers of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and spices. Those who cannot bring their goods to town sell them from roadside stalls that line the main roads between the towns and cities.
Street vendors - mostly Roma - sell chestnuts and corn on the cob roasted over charcoal fires. Young boys sell cigarettes from cardboard boxes; some, who sell to motorists near the Qemal Staffa stadium, do a sideline in car air fresheners. (I have heard though that these boys are selling for others who are taking the profits and whose commitment to a fair and honest market economy leaves something to be desired.) A handful of money changers hang around in Skenderbeg Square waving fistfuls of bank notes, while a great herd of them blocks the footpaths around the national bank.
As well as these expected manifestations of the market, there are other, more unusual enterprises. I have already mentioned the photographers who patrol Rinia Park taking photographs of passers-by. Then there are the older men who sit on the steps of buildings with bathroom scales where you can find out your weight for a small fee. Near our house one man sits at a table made of some upturned crates and a piece of hardboard. On his table are aerosols and a selection of used cigarette lighters. He will sell you a 'pre-owned' lighter or refill your existing one.
Telephone card providers position themselves by public phone booths. These phones don't take cash, and not everyone wants to buy a card. So the card provider makes a card available and after making the call the customer pays the amount used on the card plus a commission. Shoeshine booths are less common than might be expected given the locals' attachment to fashionable shoes and the state of the footpaths. There are some, though, tackling the awesome task of shifting Tirana's clinging mud.
Car washers are more common, tapping into whatever water and electricity supply is available. They do a remarkable job of ensuring that the expensive M-B's and BMW's look shiny and sleek again - just for the few moments it takes to attract a new layer of dirt and dust. In the park you can try your hand at one of the target shooting ranges that appear during the day - not real guns, in case you were wondering. Behind the Dinamo training pitch you can go paint-balling in an improvised complex built from wooden crates, old cars and hay bails.

Sadly, this is only part of the story. No country ever got wealthy through these kinds of activities alone. What is needed is an environment - political, institutional, legal - that enables the creativity of Albanian entrepeneurs to flourish, creating bigger businesses that provide high quality goods and services for the people of Albania and beyond, and that provide employment, wealth and growth that will benefit all Albanians.
In its absence, a darker, uglier Albanian economy - trading in guns, drugs, stolen vehicles, women and children - continues to flourish, bringing the greatest wealth to the least deserving. Albania may have come a long way since the dark days of communism or the collapse of 1997, but it still has a very long way to go before it reaps the full benefits of a market economy.


ITS said…
"What is needed is an environment - political, institutional, legal - that enables the creativity of Albanian entrepeneurs to flourish, creating bigger businesses that provide high quality goods and services for the people of Albania and beyond, and that provide employment, wealth and growth that will benefit all Albanians."

Who's going to do that? You, me? It takes generations of people to transition a society from the Ottoman Empire days to the "information age".

It's definitely a very "cute" and entertaining observation, but you forget that the ruling class, politicians, and even academia in Albania lacks vision and independent thinking abilities. That's mostly due to the communist brainwashing 50 year period.

For the past 15 years I have been whining about this lack of vision. Now, after sever power shifts between the leading parties, I realize that it will need generation changes, before the Albanian mentality towards, politics, education, business and progress overall will change.

Right now enjoy the freak show, and think of it as Wild Wild West (or Wild Wild East)
ITS said…
By the way, the third picture on the right -- what are they selling there? Even I don't get it...
adfjkaj said…
Mir Me-jes? (hello?)

Great pics as always.

So, I may take you up one day on the tour of Tirana.

Is there an American Gov presence in Tirana? US Military Base? Embassy? Consulate?

Most of the Albanians here in Greece seem very fond of Americans, in fact, an Albanian woman in the bus once stuck up for me. A group of older Greeks were bagging on American foreign policy and Bush, and this Albanian lady (spoke outstanding Greek) started telling them if it wasn't for Americans, Greece would be as poor as Albania, and for them to shut up.

I was so proud and as of that day, I always try and be kind to Albanians and give them bigger tips, etc.
olli said…
ITS So what about all those other countries that have endured 50 years of communist brainwashing, some of which had shown a worring enthusiasm for Nazism before that. Many of these countries have managed the transition very well.
Of course there is a generational dimension to change on this scale, but to claim that this is the only way societies change is an excuse to do nothing.
The photo is the paint ball complex - not a great subject but the only photo I had to hand. When I have something better I will probably change it for something more recognisable.
olli said…
Scruffy, there is an American Embassy in Tirana. There is also a USAID presence and a large Peace Corps presence. Generally, there is less anti-Americanism here than you would find in a lot of countries.
Anonymous said…
Believe the pic on the right is the paintball course behind Dinamo stadium.
I spent almost four years in Tirana (99-03) and witnessed remarkable growth and change there. That said, as long as the same political leaders (Nano, Berisha, Majko, etc) continue to play musical chairs (as they have since the early-90s) real change will be slow in coming. It will be interesting to watch Rama's political development over the next few years. Although I don't agree with all of his decisions, he does seem to have the best interest of the people in mind (most of the time).
ITS said…
Yes, yes, I used to think like you too. What about all those other countries that endured 50 years of communism.

It was nothing like Albania's version of communism. Hoxha took it way further. It's the isolationism that hurt us more. We didn't even benefit from cooperating with other communist partners, because they weren't communist enough in Hoxha's mind.

Hoxha also took every piece of property away individuals. People living in villages couldn't even own a chicken; hence the great desire to deal small things now. Our 50 years of communism have left deep psychological wounds that need to be overcome before any progress will take place. Lots of time again.

Lastly in your expose, you forget to mention the three main streams of business in Albania. Immigration, Construction, and Entertainment. Immigration is what pumps the real money into the country, and keep our currency surprisingly stable. Construction, is the biggest industry operating in Albania. I wish you would have seen Tirana in 1990 and today. You would not recognize a thing. I was gone from 97-2005 and was lost myself.

And lastly the entertainment industry. I have trotted the globe and enjoyed some of the best spots Western (or Eastern) Civilization has to offer, yet I can't have fun like I can in Tirana. The cafes, bars, nightclubs, restaurants, hotels by the beach, etc, offer the best place for me to vacation. If you have money, you can live like a king in Tirana.
adfjkaj said…
Thanks Alwyn.

I had a US Army friend who went to Albania in the early 1990s on some military exchange program visit, and said that (back then) the Albanian military officers seemed to be doing quite well for themselves.

My friend had a great time, and they treated him like royalty and he was only a junior American Army officer.
Ashley said…
Coming to Tirana in a couple of weeks and it's my first time there. What do you suggest for someone going solo?
olli said…
Hello Ashley. I'm not sure how recent your comment is. This is a post from January but your comment only appeared in my email inbox yesterday. So I will assume that your are still to come here and I will send a copy of this to your email address.

First thing to do is to go to this website:

This is the online version of a useful guide to the city (and a few areas in th South of the country). You can download the entire thing as a PDF.

Second thing is to bear in mind that Tirana is not your typical tourist city - no grand museums, palaces, churches; no pleasant leafy boulevards, boat trips on the river etc.

My own view is that the best thing to do in Tirana is to walk. Get up early and just start walking around - its a small place and pretty safe as cities go. When you have had enough walking take a sit at any of the hundreds of cafes and watch the world go by.

In the evening go for a wander round the Block - Tirana's trendy zone - and try the local restaurants.

There are night clubs in the city if that is your thing but I'm a bit to old for those so can't comment. The In Your Pocket guide does cover them though.

If you want something as bit more adventurous, you could take a bus trip to Kruja - I think I have some pictures of it somewhere on the blog - or a train trip to Durres by the sea, or you could take the recently built cablecar to the top of Mount Daiti which overlooks the city and has a few nice restaurants.

There are also a few companies that organise adventure sports from the city if you are into any of that.

Let me know what you are interested in and I will see if I can find out any more.

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