Moscow’s First Supermarket

PHOTO by Vladimir Astapkovich / RIA Novosti
One hundred and sixteen years of Moscow's first and most lavish supermarket, Eliseevsky Store, in photographs

Some 116 years ago in February 1901, Moscow’s very first supermarket – Eliseev’s store and cellar for Russian and foreign wines – opened its doors. Today, MOSLENTA joins early 20th century author Vladimir Gilyarovsky to take a stunning visual journey through the store’s long lifetime serving the capital.

Mountains of exotic fruit rise on the counters: pyramids of coconuts that stand like heaps of cannonballs, each as large as a child’s head. Enormous forty-pound bunches of tropical bananas hang from the shelves, while multi-coloured sea monsters from the mysterious depths glisten like pearl.

Above it all shine rows of electric stars, reflected in the rows and rows of wine bottles: they glow and gleam in the deep mirrors that rise high into the foggy mist that hangs just below the ceiling.

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1952: selling sausage in Eliseevsky Store

Silver and crystal shine on snow-white table cloths, their facets reflecting the lights. Like the frozen droplets of a waterfall, they gleam with every colour of the rainbow.

Among the crystal jugs filled with various wines are bottles of every possible shape: from simple translucent bottles of golden Château d'Yquem, to bottles of champagne and burgundy: fat bottles of Madeira, and the ugly, primitive flasks of Hungarian wines. The misty marsh-coloured glass on the bottles of old Tokaj glimmers with a pearl-like sheen.

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The store's building on Moscow's Tverskaya street
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Eliseevsky Store in 1987

Trembling slightly, jellies and galantines in whimsical shapes line the counters alongside giant red lobsters and crayfish, shining red under the bright light. Large hams dominate in their abundance, their skins thrown aside like cloaks. Some glisten pink with lard, while the Westphalia hung hams, also in open cloaks, compete against the table cloths in their whiteness. They are sliced into paper-thin sheets with mathematical precision, before being carefully placed together again - keeping the illusion that the meat is still pristine, intact, untouched. Fat oysters from Oostende are laid out beautifully on a layer of snow, almost appearing to breathe.

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Artist Mikhail Naumov restores the historic moulding at Eliseevsky Store
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Eliseevsky Store

Across the wide table, cured sturgeon and inconnu glisten with pink and amber, while fine sterlet caviar lies in a ring of crushed ice in silver buckets. Dark sturgeon caviar and large beluga roe brim over the edges, fragrant pressed caviar from Salyan swelling on silver trays. Further on, dry sack caviar (whose roe could be cut in half with a thin knife) is piled high, keeping the shape of the sacks it was shipped in. Even all this is nothing to the best pressed caviar of them all, - Achevsk-Kuchugar, with its unique earthy aroma - which towers on plates in enormous heaps.

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Window of the famous Eliseevsky Store opened after restoration in 2003
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2003 prices (Sign: Shrimp kebabs. 150 grams. Price — 110 roubles)