Every global city has its landmarks. Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria is no different. So, when someone asks you about the ‘Kleks’ through the city, you now know.
A casual stroll down the city’s streets will showcase landmarks like the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, the National History Museum, the National Assembly, the National Palace of Culture and if you pause to look below waist level occasionally, you will most likely see something that is unique to Sofia, a ‘Klek’.
With the fall of communism and the entry of capitalism, many Bulgarians started their own businesses. But capitalism also brought with it, high rents. Not to be held back anymore, enterprising residents of Sofia beat the system by converting unused basements along the sidewalks to set up little Kleks or basement shops.
A Klek is quite literally a ‘Knee shop’ as customers had to pretty much get down on their knees to engage with the shopkeepers who plied their trade from below street level out of basements. Most of these Kleks sold quick pick items like packed snacks and bottled beverages. Which were all colorfully displayed in small glass cupboards outside the basement window to catch the eye of passing customers.
Besides these Klek’s selling snacks and beverages, a variety of other services were also offered, such as shoe repair shops. That said, over the years, with changes in lifestyles, many Kleks have disappeared and the few that remain, attract the attention of tourists like me.