Dozens of tiny grocery stores have sprung up around Cuba in recent months
HAVANA — Until recently, the space was the one-car garage of a private home in Cuba’s capital, Havana. Today, it is a well-stocked, if small, grocery store whose big board at the gate entices shoppers with such offerings as cooking oil, tomato sauce, Hershey’s cocoa powder, Nutella, shampoo, cookies and jam — a treasure trove in a country that is short of supplies.
The nameless shop in the residential neighborhood of El Vedado is one of dozens of tiny grocery stores that have sprung up around Cuba in recent months. Locals refer to them as “mipymes” — pronounced MEE-PEE-MEHS. The name derives from the Spanish words for the small- and medium-sized enterprises that were first allowed to open in 2021.
By allowing the new businesses, the Cuban government hoped to help an economy in crisis and strengthen local production. The almost 9,000 enterprises approved so far include the likes of sewing workshops, fisheries and construction firms, but it is small retail shops like the one in Vedado that seem to be setting up the fastest.
They also have greater visibility among the population because they offer many products not available elsewhere and usually operate out of private homes or garages.
Yet despite their modest setup, their prices are far from affordable, even for a doctor or a teacher, who make about 7,000 Cuban pesos a month (about $28 in the parallel market).
For example, one kilo (2.2 pounds) of powdered milk from the Czech Republic costs 2,000 Cuban pesos (about $8). A jar of Spanish mayonnaise goes for $4. Two and a half kilos (about 5 pounds) of chicken imported from the U.S. cost $8. There are also less essential goods: a jar of Nutella for $5, a bottle of bubbly Spanish wine for $6.
The customers able to use these small shops include Cuban families who receive remittances from abroad, tourism workers, diplomats, employees of other small- and medium-sized businesses, artists and high-performance athletes.
“This is a luxury,” Ania Espinosa, a state employee, said as she left one store in Havana, where she paid $1.50 (350 Cuban pesos) for a packet of potato chips for her daughter. “There are people who don’t earn enough money to shop at a mipyme, because everything is very expensive,” she added.
In addition to her monthly state salary, Espinosa makes some additional income and receives remittances from her husband, who has lived in the U.S. for a year and a half and previously lived in Uruguay.
A few meters (yards) away, Ingracia Virgen Cruzata, a retiree, lamented the high prices at the shop. “I retired with 2,200 (Cuban pesos a month or $8.80) last year and I can’t even buy a package of chicken,” she said.