Beauté de Paris: Inside an abandoned mini mall on an Estonian island

The only town on Saaremaa island in Estonia, Kuressaare is a popular holiday destination for those with a mind for Baltic history and the great outdoors. It’s also where Team Intrigue spent their Easter holidays. Behind the picturesque facade of a medieval old town, long sandy beaches and silent pine forests, we discovered an edgier side of Kuressaare – one that is sadly rapidly disappearing.

The two-storey building was located just off the main street. Unlike some of the other abandoned buildings in town and out in the country, this one wasn’t in ruins. Its past lives were still somewhat decipherable from the artefacts on site as well as the structure itself.

Let me just state here that I have no conclusive proof of it – the English-speaking internet hasn’t turned up anything despite my vigorous effort – but the dozens of discarded hair and beauty tutorials, the two old-timey strongboxes, the signs with the words inventory (inventuur) and shop (kauplus) on them, among other non-subtle clues, all seemed to suggest that this had once been a place where folks came to run a few errands at once.

A mini mall inside a building that, from the outside, looked like it should have been a residential one.

There was also the fact of the location: right next to the building was Kauba bus stop. Kauba is Estonian for trade. There were no other shops or buildings that looked like they could once have housed a shop or shops in sight. And if there’s something universal about place names, it’s that they’re often not incidental.

As for the timeline of the building, the most recent newspaper I found there was from 1994 – three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restoration of Estonia’s independence. The building itself must have been older than that, but what wasn’t so clear is whether it had been a state-approved center of commerce during the Soviet era or a privately operated one in the brief 1991-94 period or even both.

It certainly gave off a strong 80s and early 90s vibe, which I recall from my own childhood in Finland back at a time when small clusters of local businesses hadn’t yet been run down by chain stores and shopping malls. I’m generally not one for nostalgia – I’m more interested in exploring how time changes things than reminiscing about “the good old days” – but this was a time trip I could enjoy.

Afterwards I felt very lucky that I was able to see the place while it’s still there. I had read about a recent decision by the town council to start demolishing the remaining Soviet-era buildings to build a cleaner and more attractive Kuressaare for visitors. You might guess how I personally feel about “cleaner and more attractive”, but I also realize that catering to my feelings would probably do little for the local economy in the long run.

But maybe, just maybe, the relatively intact and potentially lovely building could still be saved and transformed into something else, like the increasingly hip neighborhood of Kalamaja, Tallinn is doing with its abandoned factory complexes? We can only wait and see.

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