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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Western-Style Stores Taking Stock




The recent ruble crash has sparked panic buying, and many Russian shops have seen their stocks of electronic goods, household items and food staples depleted as residents brace for an uncertain future.


The city's Western-oriented supermarkets are also trying to find ways to cope with the tumbling ruble and are seeking alternatives to the Russian producers that provide part of their stock.


A visit to the Kalinka Stockmann supermarket near Paveletskaya metro station this week revealed well-stocked shelves. But with the Central Bank ruble rate changing so frequently, management has opted to leave the ruble price stickers alone and to post notices around the store warning customers that the actual cost of goods is higher than shown.


As of Tuesday, the signs read, "Dear Customers, due to the ruble devaluation the actual price is 150 percent higher than is marked."


A store manager who identified herself as Julia said Tuesday that the most recent ruble devaluation and corresponding price percentage adjustment had taken place earlier in the day, when the store changed the notices accordingly. She said that, though posting percentage adjustments was not an ideal solution, the sheer number of goods in stock made changing individual price stickers impractical.


Like many shoppers who are concentrating on their purchases Frenchman Alain Raffaelli said the pricing method caught him off guard; Raffaelli said Tuesday he thought he'd found some real bargains at Stockmann, including a 60 ruble bottle of wine.


"It was a surprise because I didn't see the notice until I reached the cashier," he said. "But I decided to go for it anyway, because it adds up to the normal prices, like it was before."


Kalinka Stockmann General Director Jussi Kuutsa said Tuesday that the situation had changed. While posting prices in foreign currency was prohibited late last year, the Moscow government, in response to the current crisis, has again allowed for items to be marked in a foreign currency (Stockmann lists prices in U.S. dollars). Prices on goods at all four Stockmann stores in Moscow will be marked accordingly within the week.


To compensate for the depletion of domestically supplied dry goods like sugar and flour, Kuutsa said Stockmann was "dramatically" increasing the variety and quantity of imports from its Finnish base.


"We can't push a button and get everything here at the same time, but our stock will remain at its current level," Kuutsa said.


Kuutsa said that because the firm's clientele is made up mainly of foreigners and wealthier Russians, business should remain stable. He said Stockmann will go ahead with the opening of its Smolenskaya department store in November.


"Stockmann has been in Russia for 10 years," he said, "and that includes 1991 and '93, when the crises were much more uncomfortable."


But outside the Progress Trade House supermarket near Park Kultury metro station Monday, customer Yekaterina Babayeva was less confident.


"I just wanted to buy laundry detergent, but the shelves are empty," she said.


While the Progress shelves were not in fact bare, they were noticeably depleted, and the normally stocked household cleaners and food staples were conspicuous by their absence.


Babayeva, who works for the Dutch company Tolsma Tchniek, said friends in Nizhny Novgorod had called last week to say it was time to buy up as much coffee as she could.


"My husband didn't believe things had reached that point," she said. "But I came to the store, and I think it was the last day I could buy it at the old prices. Now there's no coffee left."


A manager at Progress who did not wish to be identified by name said her store would keep its doors open, though shelves would be leaner. "We will have groceries. Every day we have vehicles coming in with goods, but only a few, because now we have to pay in cash," the manager said.


Progress will continue to accept credit cards, except for the Union card. But that won't help many Russian customers.


"Many are afraid," the Progress manager said. "Those who receive their salary in dollars aren't afraid of hard currency. They're not losing anything. But those who receive their salaries in rubles, they are afraid, because our money is losing value every day."


Alexander Varpetien, supermarket manager for El Dorado Trading Ltd., said Tuesday the store's large inventory meant shelves were still full but that, as at Stockmann, staples were being added to the list of imported goods. He said El Dorado normally imports 60 percent of its stock, from countries like Germany, Austria and France. Varpetien said for now the store will not accept credit cards.


Outside Progress, Valentina Nigova called the crisis a blow for Russia's emerging middle class. But she said she would keep working, buy what food she could and try not to let the political wrangling concern her too much.


"I'm worried, but I'm not going to watch television or read the newspapers, because worrying isn't going to make me any richer," she said.


"The Russian nation is like a cockroach," she concluded optimistically. "We will survive every situation."