4 Inside the Soviet stores (photos).

Inside the Soviet stores (photos).


Recently I was reviewing old photographs from the times of Soviet life, and most of all I’m interested in photos of people’s lives – houses, apartments, interiors, clothing, food and so on. It is very interesting to watch at shops – at the showcases and at the principles of interaction between the seller and the buyer.

Only 25 years passed after the fall of the Soviet Union, but it seems like an eternity had passed – so all that was then, is different from the one that we have now.

So, in this post we look at the photos of Soviet stores and see how they were different from today.

First, let’s look at the showcases. For example, a showcase of “manufactured goods” in one of the Soviet stores, there are exposed plates, pans sets, mechanical grinders, as well as aluminum ladles and skimmers – which were probably in every Soviet apartment. Meat grinders were in each one, as the cutlet was often the only dish that can be prepared from the bad store meat.

There were no “food processors” in the Soviet Union – only in the late Soviet 70-80th primitive juicers, blenders and electric coffee machines appeared.

And this is a showcase of the product department. For some reason, there were often built huge pyramids of cans with canned food – apparently, it was considered beautiful. Personally, I remember very well these tin pyramids in the windows of the Minsk shop “Ocean” at the intersection of the avenue and Kozlov Street. The most common were canned fish.

Inside the fish department. Generally fish – was probably the only thing that was more or less stable, you could buy it in the stores during the Soviet era, even in periods of scarcity on the shelves there was canned and frozen pollack. Also in fish departments, there was sold seaweed, which I still can’t stand.

The meat department, perhaps a photograph was taken at the same time as the previous one, in a more or less “well-fed” 1950s, although even at that time, such assortment was only in large stores of allied capitals.

An interesting detail of the era – the meat like in the market is cut in front of the visitors on the large wooden deck, there were no sanitary norms in their modern sense.

And this is – knitwear department, photo made in the early 1960s in Moscow’s GUM. It is interesting that the goods were not, as now, hung on separate racks with free access, and were stacked on the counter of the seller, which has been fenced off from visitors with a glass case – apparently, that was done in order to reduce thefts in the store, because there were no means of protection like magnetic stickers or video.

The shoe department, the photo of 1950-60 period. Here, everything is open, as it is impossible to steal a pair of shoes in the box unnoticed. In general, showing of goods is remarkably similar to nowadays- the same series of boxes sorted by size, the same dressing benches. The only difference – there are no models of shoes, that is, no samples.

A very interesting picture, which shows the process of collective listening to the record – the seller turns on any record on a special stationary player and customers listen to it through a special tube with speakers. There are only four tubes – one is hanging on the hook at the front, and the other three are used by customers.

Showcase of provincial food, giving a good idea of the product assortment in the province – a couple of kinds of bacon and fat, five kinds of cheap wine, tobacco and tobacco packs, ten kinds of canned food. That is all. There is also fish, most likely something salty, from the barrel.

Interesting photo – a man comes from the so-called “bread” store – in province existed individual shops, which sold only bread. Often it was the only product that can be more or less free to buy (without disruption and queues).

Vegetable department, the photo of the 1980s. The assortment typical for a Soviet “Vegetable Man” of last Soviet years – cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, potatoes. The shop was visited by journalists and they made the “test of nitrates” – in the late eighties this topic acutely troubled society.

By the way, pay attention to one very important, I would even say the fundamental detail – all products are behind the counter of the seller. How do we buy now? You walk with a cart or basket through the supermarket with freely laid out products and chooses what you want. “Substandard” products that no one chose (wrinkled bananas and tomatoes, for example) then were simply thrown away or sold with a great sale.

In the USSR, it was different – first, to get access to the resource (cabbage or onions, for example), you would have to stay in a great queue, and then the seller gave you that came to hand. In some cases, you could say to give you “bigger and fresher” vegetables, but it depended on luckiness – seller could give it or answer “who will take a small one – Pushkin?”. The queue could, in this case, support the buyer – “these brazen hucksters”, or the seller – “take those things that are given to you, you are not the only one there!”.

In general, in the quest of “buying vegetables,” the whole essence of the Soviet system could be seen very well- the need for the moral humiliation to get any resource. This, incidentally, applies to virtually all spheres of Soviet life and all segments of the population, from the janitor to the Minister – the first fought in the vegetable stores, and the second ones wrote denunciations on each other and poisoned life for miserable three-bedroom apartments.

A photo from the shoe department of the times of restructuring. Very nice picture showing the shoe trade in those years – it is likely that a man from the photo “got” shoes after waiting in a long queue and then stepped aside to look at bought pair of women’s shoes. On the box, there is something written with a ballpoint pen, probably a batch number or something.

By the way, in Soviet times sellers often cranked openly a lot of “gray schemes” such as the mass sale of shoes in a black stroke of the store – deficient shoes sold without checks by 2-3 times overpriced, after which “sold” at the box office at the regular price – and said that all the goods are sold.

The same photo of the shop during perestroika – often in the stores remained some juice in a transparent jar – “Birch juice” – it was like water with citric acid and sugar.

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4 Responses to “Inside the Soviet stores (photos).”

  1. L R Tuggle says:

    I remember so well my first trip to Moscow in 1968. I worked for Pan Am – everyone assumed I was British because they had never seen an American. The utter shock to my system when I saw the level of daily living that was not much better than Third World countries I had visited (and the Russian people I talked to said that Moscow got the best of everything -elsewhere it was REALLY poor). Shabby, cheap looking clothes -virtually no private cars -long lines for every store (the nice people would insist that I, as a foreigner, go to the front of the line) and once you got inside they were almost empty. I wanted to get a watch with Cyrillic characters as a souvenir so I went to the GUM store (which I was told was the largest store in Russia) Huge beautiful building – lots of people shopping. In the USA you could go into any department store, drug store,or even a grocery market and there would be 15-25 different watches available. A jewelry store or a large store like Macy’s would have 100’s. At the GUM store, there were THREE types available – THREE! And, if you wanted a band for the watch, you had to go to another department and they were sold out. I never got over the shock of realizing that these were the people we were terrified of -who we were told by our media and government were ahead of us in space, medicine, education and military power and that we were going to have to spend enormous amounts of tax money to “catch up’ to them. We were then at the peak of the American way of life and these people were living like western Europe in 1948. I came home a lot less likely to believe what I was told until I saw it for myself.

    • Samuel says:

      The 60, 70, early 80s weren’t bad though, some of the pictures show empty shelves, that’s late 80s, early 90s.
      The problem was that they had all the technology, many things of a better quality than anywhere else in the world, but you couldn’t mass produce it, so nobody build factories and nobody had anything.

  2. Rick says:

    You know… while I am on the other side of the globe I wen’t to an old drug store a few days back, the kind that still has wood shelves and you order the stuff you want from the clerk, these are also the kind to have stuff that other big brand drug stores don’t… it was a blast from the past to be sincere, the clerk was respectful, packed everything and I was on my way. I actually felt like a human being instead of another number going in and out of the door.

  3. RB says:

    There is a story of when Yeltsin went the US to visit. They said he ran away from the tour people and went into a grocer store. He wanted to see what the US was like away from government people. He was astonished at how many things were on the shelves inside.He asked his men to find out how many different things they had there. He was told sixteen thousand different things,he didn’t believe it and thought it was one thousand six hundred. He saw how you can scan the food with the laser when you pay and he was amazed. Someone who was with him on the plane home said he never stopped talking about the store and that he was just shaking his head. He said he had a headache from all of it and was angry at Moscow because he was told everything had already been invented. He saw what was available in the west and it made a huge impression on him.
    I found the story fascinating and I wish I could hear it again.

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