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Tourists get bargains at Olympics

By CATHY BOOTH

SARAJEVO, Yugoslavia -- Magros, the local department store, may not look like Bloomingdale's, but for tourists at the Winter Olympics it's like a bargain basement for brand-name ski wear and hand-cut crystal.

In what Americans wrongly consider a communist wasteland of consumer goods, Olympic tourists are buying Adidas ski boots and Elan skis for one third the price in the United States or Europe.

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'Back home you'd pay $40 for shoes, but here you get fur-lined boots, skis, plus poles, plus bindings, all for $50, and it's all the top brands,' marveled Terry Greene, 32, of San Antonio, an Army school teacher from West Germany.

Ski department sales at Magros are up by 100 percent thanks to the American, European and handful of Asian tourists snatching up Elan skis for $50 and Adidas boots for as little as $25 -- cheap for visitors but expensive to Yugoslavs who earns an average $55 a week.

'Americans are good customers. I hear it is very expensive for you there,' said saleswoman Munevera Mahinic, 20.

'For one complete outfit there, you buy three here. Americans always pick up a bunch of $1 bags. For us they are very expensive, but Americans buy six or seven.'

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There are a few problems. Demand is such that supplies keep running out. 'The salesgirls told us if we want ski bags to come tomorrow. The guide had told us to come today if we wanted skis,' said Miss Greene.

Another gathering spot for tourists at Magros is the crystal department on the first floor. Joe Charest, 37, of Los Angeles, spent $100 on a set of hand-cut glasses and said, 'I would have paid three times that at home.'

Magros stocked up on five times the amount of crystal they usually carry. Their success is evident at Sarajevo airport where many departing Americans carry a neatly packed box of crystal glasses.

'They're nice and when people ask, I can say they came from Yugoslavia,' said a woman from Boston.

The five-story modern store does sell other things, including bathtubs in bright blue and the latest Paul McCartney album, but for the Olympics it spent more than $500,000 to revamp its 8-year-old main building to give it a 'European look.'

The effort paid off. In February, Sarajevo's local chain department store made $2.5 million -- 40 percent above usual sales.

One of the biggest sellers is anything with an Olympic emblem. Every wool, mohair, camel's hair and rabbit hat with the emblem sold out in two days and T-shirts bearing Vucko, the wolf mascot of the Sarajevo Games, are selling at the rate of 1,500 a day.

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The Olympics have even allowed Magros' director Dzevdo Delic to turn a marketing problem into a sales success.

'We had some children's shirts for 200-300 dinars ($1.50-$2.50) but we couldn't sell them. Then we put Vucko on them and they sold out in a half hour for 400-500 dinars ($3-4),' he said with a laugh.

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