Polish mountains a bargain basement for Slovaks

Sun Mar 1, 2009 8:03pm EST
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By Kuba Jaworowski

NOWY TARG, Poland (Reuters) - The euro may be the shelter Poland's government seeks from eastern Europe's currency storm, but residents here are basking in the zloty's weakness.

The Tatra mountain region in Poland's south neighbors Slovakia, which has joined the euro zone.

Whereas the traditional traffic is of Poles to Slovakia to ski and buy cheap alcohol, now Poles are relishing an influx of bargain-hunting Slovaks.

The trend has been building since Slovakia adopted the euro on January 1. Euro membership has preserved its "A+" credit rating at Standard & Poor's (Poland's is two notches lower) and Slovakia is, as the Economist magazine put it last week, "smugly in euro-area." But its currency strength is bringing pain.

Last month at more than 2,000 makeshift stalls in a muddy field just outside the Polish town of Nowy Targ, Slovaks comprised about 80 percent of customers.

They bought mainly basics such as clothes and furniture, and some, Poles said, were drawn to buy cars. Since Slovakia has become known as "Europe's Detroit" for its auto-making strength, that's an irony Poles would appreciate.

The currency-shopping vogue is similar to that in Britain, where the pound's steep fall has made London a cheap destination for euro-rich tourists. Many Polish businessmen are delighted.

The zloty, under pressure from an exodus of foreign investors, has lost about 30 percent of its value against the euro compared with record levels in the middle of last year.   Continued...

<p>A Polish woman holds animal skins at an open market in the town of Nowy Targ, some 400 km (250 miles) south of Warsaw February 28, 2009. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko</p>