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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Shops: From 'Good' To 'Excellent'

The days grow shorter and grayer this time of year, but oddly enough Moscow is looking more colorful than ever.

This is partly because on streets once lined with faded signs and dusty windows, vibrant awnings and neon lights have taken over, lending a kaleidoscopic of color to a once dismal vista.

Moscow still may not pulsate with the lights and beat of New York or London, but this city once known for its drab window displays and stores with clever names like Khleb and Moloko has certainly come a long way. Now bakeries have names like Zodiak or Larets and are festooned with bright signs and inviting displays.

This has been a gradual process, but even former state shop directors, who sought nothing more in the Soviet days than to keep the pesky shopper out, realize now that they must compete for the consumer. This means catchy names, stickers and signs and lighted window displays that attract shoppers and actually reflect what is for sale inside. No more of those pyramid stacks of jam jars or other treats that Soviet shoppers used to admire in the window but never could find behind the counter.

One of the first to try this simple marketing exercise was the Khoroshy, or Good, shop on Kutuzovsky Prospect, a tiny grocery that quickly became known for its high-quality breads and sausages. This gem emerged in 1992 out of a row of drab and imposing state stores on the bottom floor of an apartment building built for Soviet apparatchiki, shortly after market reforms unleashed a flood of foods.

Others soon followed: The Trading House Moscow scrubbed down a long building facade, installed bright lights and sleek awnings, and tacked its name on in enticing silver letters. Mannequins dressed to a chic New Russian T now adorn the windows. Across the street, another store offering modnaya odezhda, or fashionable clothes, attracts buyers with its bright green sign. The result of such efforts has been a stream of shoppers, curious about what these attractive places have to offer.

Of course, some of the effort at sprucing up is due to Yury Luzhkov, our decree-happy mayor who set out to make his city a showcase by ordering clean shop windows and polite service. But the impulse is not only from above. No number of city inspectors could compel the kinds of changes that we are seeing now. Instead, it is simple economics at work: Shopkeepers are trying to make a lasting impression on the consumer.

Some parts of downtown are even beginning to resemble the boutique-lined streets of Western Europe. Take Ulitsa Gerzena, for example. A forest green awning emerges from a pastel facade to announce the Image Boutique, an upscale clothing store with mannequins posed in tweed jackets and suede coats. Next door, the lighted sign of Gyro Express beckons hungry passersby. On adjacent Ulitsa Ogaryova, businessmen whisk in and out of the automatic doors and polished steps of the Polis insurance agency, which is next to a classy furniture store and the Favorit jewelry shop. Sandwiched in between all of this, appropriately, is the institute of the man who could be credited with unleashing this marketing savvy: Yegor Gaidar.

And the Khoroshy shop is no longer the only grocery on Kutuzovsky Prospect with a catchy name: Competing for business these days just down the street is none other than the Otlichny, or Excellent, grocery store.