Closing Time: Moscow’s Iconic ‘No. 1’ Grocery Store Shuts Down

Photo: russiainphoto.ru  

After 120 years in business, the Yeliseyevsky luxury grocery store closed its doors on April 11. The store survived revolution, communism, and the collapse of the Soviet Union but has reportedly been forced to shut down due in part to the coronavirus pandemic.

Customers browse at Yeliseyevsky a few days before it closed down. The portrait on the wall is of the store's founder, Grigory Yeliseyev (1864-1949). Customers browse at Yeliseyevsky a few days before it closed down. The portrait on the wall is of the store's founder, Grigory Yeliseyev (1864-1949). The store was located in this tsarist-era palace on Moscow's exclusive Tverskaya Street, a short walk from the Kremlin. The store was located in this tsarist-era palace on Moscow's exclusive Tverskaya Street, a short walk from the Kremlin.

Groceries are piled up for display inside Yeliseyevsky in 1913. Groceries are piled up for display inside Yeliseyevsky in 1913.

The iconic shop was founded in 1901 by Grigory Yeliseyev, the grandson of a freed serf, and catered to Moscow’s upper classes.

Employees work in a storeroom for caviar, fish, and cheese in 1913. Employees work in a storeroom for caviar, fish, and cheese in 1913.

Moscow’s fur-coated elite once lined up in carriages outside the store for coveted treats like the fish and cheese seen above, as well as imported wines and foreign delicacies such as pineapples.

Carefully stacked fruits and vegetables at Yeliseyevsky in 1913 Carefully stacked fruits and vegetables at Yeliseyevsky in 1913

A witness to the store’s 1901 opening captured the sensation it caused at the time: "On the sidewalk there was a crowd of people eagerly looking through the windows at fantastic piles of goods unknown to Moscow: Exotic fruits rose in mountains. A pyramid of coconuts rose like a heap of cannonballs, each the size of a child’s head. Tropical bananas hung in immense bunches, and the vari-colored inhabitants of the sea kingdom glowed under the mother-of-pearl electric lighting…."

A clerk serves a crowd of customers in 1950. A clerk serves a crowd of customers in 1950.

After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Yeliseyev was forced to flee the country and the store was seized by Russia’s new radical left-wing government.

A store worker stacks cans of sardines in 1950. A store worker stacks cans of sardines in 1950.

Under the Soviet Union’s socialist bureaucracy, Yeliseyevsky was renamed "Gastronome No. 1."

A customer peruses the shop's meat-and-cheese section in 1950. A customer peruses the shop's meat-and-cheese section in 1950.

In the early 1980s, Yeliseyevsky was at the center of a corruption scandal that shocked the country when the director of the store was charged with theft and bribery, then executed in 1984.

Workers inspect the stucco decoration inside Yeliseyevsky during major renovations in 2003. Workers inspect the stucco decoration inside Yeliseyevsky during major renovations in 2003.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, some $3 million was spent to revive the elegant interior. Then, in 2004, Yeliseyevsky’s reopened as a 24-7 grocery store.

A woman browses well-stocked shelves in 2006. A woman browses well-stocked shelves in 2006.

In recent years the store has reportedly struggled to remain profitable and, in 2019, the owners became embroiled in a complex legal battle with the Moscow government.

Groceries on display in one of the ornate halls of Yeliseyevsky in 2019. Groceries on display in one of the ornate halls of Yeliseyevsky in 2019.

Parking near the store is notoriously difficult, and skyrocketing rents have led to a dwindling of local residents within strolling distance.

A tourist takes a photo inside the store in April 2021. A tourist takes a photo inside the store in April 2021.

The store had relied largely on tourists willing to pay a premium for groceries checked out in exquisite, historic surroundings, while the few Russian consumers in the neighborhood largely headed for cheaper and more accessible supermarkets nearby.

A woman enters Yeliseyevsky past a bust of its founder on April 11, the shop's last day of business. A woman enters Yeliseyevsky past a bust of its founder on April 11, the shop's last day of business.

With Russia’s borders effectively closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Yeliseyevsky’s tourist foot traffic evaporated over the past year before the store closed down on April 11. The legal battle with the Moscow government is ongoing.



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