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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Looking for Borshch in All the Wrong Places

NEW YORK -- With Russian radio blaring over the loudspeakers and an elderly security guard making sure all bags are left in lockers by the entrance, the Brighton Bazaar is a cornucopia of Russian goods from blini to borshch.

"We've got all the same stuff here as you get in Russia," Vlad, the store manager, said brusquely as he unpacked crates containing gaudy boxes of Russian chocolate on a recent afternoon.

Brighton Beach, one of the best-known Russian-speaking neighborhoods in New York, is the place to come for anyone nostalgic for Moscow shops stocked with Russky Standart vodka, Baltika beer, Wonder Berry mors and Korkunov chocolate.

Beyond the district, however, Russian products are few and far between. Many Russian companies view the United States as a niche market and prefer to invest their energy in capitalizing on booming consumer demand at home.

Wimm-Bill-Dann CEO Tony Maher said the company's U.S. exports of beverages such as Wonder Berry mors, a traditional berry juice drink, are targeted exclusively at the Russian community. Maher said the short shelf life of drinks was a major obstacle preventing them from being sold to the mainstream U.S. market.

A few Russian brands, however, are attempting to break into the mainstream.

In Beekman's Liquor Store on Lexington and 47th, a new range of Russky Standart vodka is displayed prominently behind the counter. David Frieser, the manager of the family-owned store, said that at $20.99 per bottle, Russky Standart is being pitched as a mid-range alternative to Absolut and the ubiquitous Stolichnaya and has been on offer for just over a month.

Although interest so far has been low, Frieser says that he hopes that Russky Standart will become "the vodka of choice for Americans."

"Not a heck a lot of people know about it. They've got to advertise it and get it in the bars and drive people into the stores to buy it," chimed in Herb, an elderly sales assistant.

A high-end vodka from the same company, Imperia, has been available for several years in the United States and is selling well, Frieser said.

That evening in the KGB Bar, a converted former Ukrainian social club in the bohemian Lower East Side, Jennifer, a blonde barmaid, served bottles of Baltika at $6 a pop.

"Oh yeah, the Baltika's been going for a few years and it's real popular. People come in and try it and, you know, once they've had a few, they can't stop," she said.

Alex, an American who studied at the Moscow Art Theater, spluttered with delight at finding Baltika 9 for sale. "When I lived in Moscow, I used to buy two of these on my way home, and when you've drunk them, then you're really good to go," he said. "I didn't think anyone sold Baltika 9 here."

At the checkout line of the Lexington and 84th Street branch of D'Agostino, a supermarket chain, are four varieties of Korkunov chocolate bars, selling for $2.49 each and flashing the slogan "A Russian Masterpiece."

"We've only been selling it one or two months, and it's doing OK," store manager Mark Tucciarone said.

Later, two D'Agostino employees interrupted their discussion about the death of Anna Nicole-Smith to sample some of the chocolate.

"Oh, it's Russian is it?" said Emily Kelly, breaking off a piece with her varicolored fingernails. "Tell you the truth, I ain't ever noticed it before.

"Mm, that is good, that the bomb. I buy a lot of chocolate, but that is way better than them Snickers bars. I'm gonna buy me some of that," she said.

Victoria Mints, the manager of Korkunov's distribution arm in New Jersey, said that although Korkunov's U.S. distribution is small compared to similar European brands, it is huge compared to other Russian products, with offices and a warehouse in the United States.

"Russky Standart is just starting out, and Baltika is only sold in Russian bars and shops, but Korkunov is available in every state in the country," Mints said.

The chocolate is sold in Cost Plus World Market, a retail chain that specializes in international foods and has stores in 31 states.

Korkunov, which has been on sale for about three years in the United States, positions itself as a premium European brand and relies on its "Russianness" as a unique selling point. About 70,000 chocolate bars are shipped to the United States every month, Mints said.

The company has not advertised yet in the United States, but Mints said she hoped that would change with Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company's decision last month to buy 80 percent of the company for $300 million.

Back across the street from the D'Agostino's on Lexington, an article from The New York Times proclaiming Andrei Ustyanov the best cobbler in the city is proudly plastered to the door of his shoe repair shop.

Ustyanov, who moved from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, 15 years ago, shouted out instructions in Russian to the staff in between customers.

Asked if he had noticed whether Russian goods were spreading into regular U.S. stores, he shrugged and readjusted his New York Stock Exchange baseball cap.

"If you want all that stuff, then you gotta go to Brighton Beach," he said with a smile.