Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ritzy Boutiques Take Eclectic Bolshoi Uptown

ST. PETERSBURG -- Attracted by light traffic, elegant and eclectic architecture and the area's rising tide of new rich, private enterprise is transforming a once-decaying backwater across the Neva River from downtown St. Petersburg into one of the city's most upscale shopping districts.

Over the past year, exclusive shops such as Luxembourg porcelain manufacturer Villeroy & Boch, chic fashion house Escada and elite wine shop Chateau have opened boutiques on the two-kilometer long Bolshoi Prospekt on St. Petersburg's Petrograd Side.

Escada chose Bolshoi Prospekt as the site for its first St. Petersburg shop because it is convenient for those with money to spend, according to company director Tatyana Fedorovich.

"Bolshoi Prospekt already has a lot of high-class stores that meet our clientele's overall needs," Fedorovich said.

Bolshoi's one-way plan keeps traffic flowing and allows for parking on both sides of the street. Metro stations are located at both ends of the avenue.

"Along Bolshoi, people can do all their shopping and do not have to travel around to different ends of the city," Fedorovich added.

Villeroy & Boch's Bolshoi Prospekt shop opened a few months ago. Tamara Mamayeva, the shop's director, pointed out that the Bolshoi's cozy feeling helped her company choose the location.

"The one-way traffic along Bolshoi makes it less congested, busy and chaotic," Mamayeva said. She added that the big shopping centers of downtown Nevsky Prospekt can be unattractive to those who prefer the intimacy of Bolshoi Prospekt.

Escada and Villeroy & Boch have been at the forefront of an "invasion" of high-street retailers that has also included outlets of fashion houses Belle Etre and Four Seasons, as well as Sony, Electrolux and Adidas retail outlets. The street also has shops catering to less-wealthy shoppers: New kiosks, food stores and fast-food bistros have sprung up alongside the higher-class boutiques.

"Everything that the average person needs for living can be found on Bolshoi Propsekt," said Yury Kirzhoi, the Petrograd district administration's head of trade.

The result has been a dramatic, if at times schizophrenic, transformation of what was once one of the city's most egalitarian and intellectual districts.

Bolshoi Prospekt is one of the city's oldest streets -- older, in fact, than Nevsky Prospekt. Peter the Great originally planned his new city to be centered on the Petrograd Side, but those plans were sunk by frequent floods.

After two centuries as something of a backwater, the Petrograd Side began to boom again at the beginning of the 20th century, and by the 1917 Revolution the area was host to luxurious mansions and apartment buildings and had an active commercial and entertainment life.

The turn-of-the-century art nouveau and eclectic architecture that adorns most of Bolshoi's and the Petrograd Side's buildings stand out from the monotonous neoclassical facades that are common elsewhere in the city.

Ivan Uralov, the city's chief artist and a deputy director of the City Urban Planning and Architecture Committee, said this architectural heritage makes Bolshoi "perhaps one of most beautiful thoroughfares in the city."

Uralov said his committee is working with local building owners to find high quality artistic solutions to the problems of facade restoration and store signs.

The new boom on Bolshoi Prospekt has not been welcomed by everyone, however, and has earned the ire of many poorer, long-established residents.

Pavel Koshelev, the Petrograd district's head, said that while he is happy that Bolshoi Prospekt's shops and cafes look much better, he has received many complaints from locals, especially the elderly, who remember that Escada, for example, was once a favorite local fruit and vegetable store.

He said Escada had pledged to retain the site as a produce shop for the first five years of its lease. Once Escada had taken over the shop, however, they soon renegotiated matters with the City Property Committee, he said.

While some may view the "capitalist invasion" with distaste, there is no doubt that Bolshoi Prospekt would be looking a lot less grand had the rich and their retailers stayed away. The Petrograd district administration is short of the cash needed to repair and maintain many of the elegant structures that line the street.

According to the district administration's own figures, half of the district's 1,077 buildings need complete repair, but current city funding only allows three buildings to be renovated each year.