For years, the Finnish town of Lappeenranta flourished on a stream of Russians coming to shop. But with the ruble falling, the tourist retail trade is drying up. Sarah Toms reports.
Nestled in south east Finland, this town was the first stop in Europe for many Russian shoppers. For the past two decades Lappeenranta, just 30 kilometres from the Russian border, has been booming with tourists from the east. But now it's struggling. Signs advertise the latest sales but few shoppers roam the aisles. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CHAIRMAN OF CITY COUNCIL OF LAPPEENRANTA, HEIKKI JARVENPAA, SAYING: "We have calculated that Russian tourists have created about 2,600 working places in Lappeenranta, I mean in normal times. But today the situation is different, and I guess that we should decrease by about thousand, one thousand working places." Russia's weaker rouble and a sanctions dispute between the European Union and Moscow is taking a big bite out of the local economy. Out of two million foreign tourists visiting Lappeenranta a year, 1.5 million were Russian. But over the past three months that number has decreased by about 40 percent. Luxury retailers are now closing their doors and staff are being cut. Where the Russians used to buy designer handbags and fur coats now they buy food. (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) 'FISH-CAVIAR' CAFÉ OWNER, MASHAN YAKIMOVA, SAYING: "Ninety-percent of our customers here are Russians. There is a (bus) stop on the opposite side, naturally, they come to eat here but they cannot do any shopping." As the rouble continues to slide fewer and fewer Russians can afford the euro -- even to buy inexpensive goods -- and the town's important source of revenue will remain frozen.