Budapest is the business and trade center of the country, though most production facilities lie elsewhere. Over the past few years, the retail and wholesale sector has grown along Western standards. Throughout most of the country, small, family-owned and operated retail establishments predominate. However, in Budapest supermarkets, department stores, and indoor shopping malls have grown rapidly.
The Polus Center, the first American-style shopping mall in Central Europe, opened on the outskirts of Budapest in November 1996. West End City Center, the largest mall complex in Central Europe, was opened in Budapest in 1999. A second large mall, MOM Park, was scheduled to open in 2001. As of 2002, there were about 400 franchise operations nationwide. Several foreign chains are present. Retail purchases are still primarily cash based, though some banks are beginning to issue credit cards. A 12% value added tax (VAT) applies to food, books, hotel accommodations and utilities. A 25% VAT applies to most other good and services. Additional excise taxes (ranging from 10% to 35%) apply to some products, such as gold, coffee, wine, and automobiles.
New regulations passed in January 1997 concerning trade in food products and the operation of retail outlets focus on the reduction of black market activity, consumer protection, and harmonization with EU law. Nevertheless, the underground economy remained at around 30% in 1999.
Business hours extend from 9 or 10 AM to 4 or 5 PM for offices and general stores and to 3 or 4 PM for banks. Early closing (between noon and 1 PM ) on Saturdays is widespread; Sunday closing is general. Food stores open between 6 and 8 AM and close between 7 and 9 PM weekdays; a few remain open on Sundays.
Newspapers and general, trade, and technical magazines are used for advertising; there is also broadcast and outdoor advertising. A major industrial fair, held since 1906, takes place every spring and autumn in Budapest.