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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Bookworms No More: Progress Goes Commercial

Muscovites once visited the Progress store to satiate their hunger for knowledge. Now they come to satisfy a different kind of appetite.

Progress, formerly Moscow's second largest bookstore, is currently being billed as the biggest supermarket in central Moscow, with three stories of Western food, clothes and electronics. The books have been limited to the first floor.

As a joint venture between a French supermarket chain and the Progress publishing house, the supermarket opened in January with 1,300 square meters of floor space stocked with mostly French goods appealing to a range of tastes.

"It's not exclusive, but it's also not for poor people," said assistant general director Mikhail Kreisberg, who added that credit-card sales indicate that about 25 percent of the customers are expatriates. "Our success will be on turnover."

Three months after opening, Progress has some 1,000 customers a day, which is about half of the firm's target for earning a profit, Kreisberg said. With television, newspaper and radio advertising Kreisberg hopes to boost the store's business, but for now, the relative lack of shoppers give the market a spacious feel.

At Progress, there is no ramming of shopping carts in narrow aisles or being jostled in front of the produce section. And the prices, while certainly loftier than local Russian markets, help keep shoppers' spirits high even beyond the checkout counter.

A look at the cost of some staples at the Progress show it holds up well compared to other Western-style outlets: Twelve rolls of toilet paper cost the ruble equivalent of $6.70; one liter of orange juice, $1.90; French table wine, $5; a kilogram of tomatoes, $5.30; and an 80-gram tin of p‰t?, $0.90.

For those looking for even deeper discounts, however, Progress is not the place for shoplifting. Surveillance cameras, plainclothes security men and clerks watching from the supermarket's balcony all keep a close eye on even the most upstanding of shoppers.

Progress' real strength is its variety, which means often finding many prices and versions of the same product. The store stocks 13 varieties of vegetable and olive oil, six kinds of rice, 25 types of pasta and wine from over a dozen French vineyards.

In places, the store seems almost to have more space than its managers know what to do with. For example, four feet of shelving in the canned goods section are taken up by one size of chick peas. And, unfortunately, in some areas there are empty shelves, especially in the fresh produce department and meat section,which only sells packaged meat.

In a corner of the second-floor supermarket is a room with electronics equipment, luggage and dishware. The selection is not large, but a visit might be worthwhile as sales seem frequent.

Finally, just before the grocery checkout is a comprehensive selection of toiletries, ranging from a 75-milliliter tube of Orson toothpaste for $1 to kits of L'Or?al hair dye for $10.50.

Upstairs, on the third floor, clothes, shoes, toys, purses, perfume and racy undergarments are available. Here again the selection is big enough to satisfy both shoppers searching for deals and those looking to make a modest fashion statement.

Some of the better prices include a children's inflatable pool for $20, thermal socks for men at $8 a pair, women's Lee jeans for $39 and men's Lee jeans on sale for $15. In the large shoe department, a wide selection of items ranging from utilitarian men's wing tips for $166 to a big selection of women's shoes starting at $54.

True to its roots, most of the Progress' first floor remains full of books which, as in the old days, must be viewed from behind a counter. Stationery, Kodak film developing and blank video cassette sales round out the first floor's offerings.

If, as happened to one recent shopper after several hours of roaming the Progress' aisles, you have been overwhelmed by the selection to the point of forgetting where your parcel check tag is, Olga Mikhailovna, the woman behind the bag-checking counter offers some reassurance.

"Don't worry. There's no hurry," she said, displaying the kind of patience her counterparts in crowded, busy supermarkets seldom have.

The Progress supermarket is located at 17 Zubovsky Bulvar and is open from 10 A.M. to 9 P.M. Monday through Saturday and from 11 A.M. to 6 P.M. Sunday. Rubles and credit cards are accepted. Tel. 246-9078, 247-0508. Nearest metro: Park Kultury.