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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinese Store Debuts With Rare Fare

In an attempt to counteract perceptions here that all Chinese goods are shoddy, the Beijing government has opened the Tian Ke Long supermarket in Moscow.

The Chinese government splurged on a prime location at the end of a section of the busy Novy Arbat shopping thoroughfare to set up Tian Ke Long at No. 21, directly beneath the Alfa-Bank globe. Beijing paid an undisclosed sum to the Moscow city government to buy the first floor of the building.

Tian Ke Long, which translates roughly as "Heavenly Abundance," also has stores in Canada, the United States, Hong Kong, Macau and Spain.

The first impressions of some customers on the supermarket's first day in business Tuesday suggested a tinge of jealousy at the goods Russia's still-communist counterpart is producing.

"There is such a wide variety of goods here and they're packaged in bright and pretty wrappers," said Diana Romanova, a 43-year-old housewife, as she perused rows of colored plastic hangers on sale. "China is still communist but it looks like it's nevertheless beating us as far as packaging, price and assortment is concerned."

The Tian Ke Long aisles were filled with televisions, videos, plastic containers, towels, blankets, crockery, cutlery, stationery, toys, soy sauce, Chinese vinegar, prawn and seaweed crackers, dried dates and peanuts, jelly - even cream of red lotus nectar. And, of course, two aisles stacked high with instant noodles.

Chinese goods have lined the crowded street markets of Russia for almost a decade. But many of these products took the unofficial, well-trodden route blazed by thousands of shuttle traders who had largely beat a path straight to Russia's black economy, making quick cash selling cheap Chinese noodles and electronics. Others arrived via barter deals involving fighter jets for children's underwear and so forth.

Either way, the goods at the street stalls succeeded impressing on the Russian consciousness the idea that anything from China must be cheap junk.

But under an agreement reached in February aimed at boosting official trade between the former Cold War foes, Russia and China got down to brass tacks. While signing accords on feasibility studies for oil and gas pipelines, then-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and his counterpart, Zhu Rongji, decided to make the sale of Chinese goods here official, clinching a deal to open a chain of Chinese supermarkets in Moscow.

Muscovites were immediately attracted by the low prices Tuesday.

"I have nothing against what they're selling here, just look at the prices!" exclaimed one shopper as she lifted a plastic wastebasket. "This would cost double the amount in Kalinka Stockmann."

But shoppers searching for fresh delicacies like dim sum or litchi are likely to be disappointed. Such items are shipped in on an 18-day rail journey, making it possible to import only preserved foods.

The store management blames Russian bureaucracy and customs officials.

"Since this is an intergovernmental deal, we'd hoped for support and customs breaks. But in fact, it seems to be the other way around," said Nina Gorodbina, deputy managing director.

"If anything, customs officials are stricter with us. They detain our shipments for five days. And because this is a state deal, we have to go through the proper channels and can't use the informal ways most importers use," she said.

Fresh produce sold at the store is Russian. In all, 60 percent of the goods are Chinese and 40 percent are Russian.

Management had problems getting used to Russian business practice.

"Without a Russian at the helm, then it's practically impossible to start up a business here," Gorodbina said.

She revealed that the store's opening had been postponed for months while the Chinese managing director unsuccessfully tried to wrangle with customs officials over the shipment of goods.

"We had to replace him with a new Russian managing director in the end."

Tian Ke Long won a Chinese government tender against 600 other companies for the Moscow store franchise.

And plans are afoot to open another, larger store on Novoslobodskaya Ulitsa soon. Tian Ke Long won't reveal how much it has invested in the project, beyond saying "millions of dollars," but the management says it hopes to attract as many as 2,000 customers a day.

The cash registers were ringing rapidly on the store's opening day, but it was unclear whether that was driven by the novelty value of the goods on sale.

"I'm buying today just because I'm interested to find out what these things taste like," Natalya Andreyeva said as she chose a packet of seaweed crackers.

Others weren't convinced of the quality of the products.

"My wife has gone mad," one man said. "Surely she knows those clothes hangers will break in three days. Why is she buying them?"