Shopping Mall And More: GUM – Russia’s First Department Store

26 November, 2014

Shopping Mall And More: GUM – Russia’s First Department Store

GUM (ГУМ) is an abbreviation of  Главный Yниверсальный Mагазин, or Main Universal Store, and actually a number of GUMs exist throughout Russia and the former Soviet Republics, but this article focuses on the oldest and most beautiful of them, the Moscow GUM on Red Square. Even prior to the construction of GUM, the ground on which it stands had been an area for merchants to sell their wares almost as long as Red Square had existed.

Though a number of trade centers and buildings had stood in its place before, the modern GUM was built from 1890-1893 to replace a structure which had stood since the reconstruction of Moscow after the devastating war of 1812. The building was designed by Vladimir Shukhov and Alexander Pomerantsev, and the massive arched skylights of iron and glass made GUM a unique structure in Russia at the time of its construction, and a truly impressive and beautiful feat of engineering and architectural design. The building was home to over 1000 stores at its height, just prior to the October Revolution.

The Soviet authorities nationalized GUM after the establishment of the Soviet Union. It continued to operate as a department store until the time of Joseph Stalin, when it was transformed into office space for the planners of the Five Year Plans. The building was also briefly used to display the body of Stalin’s second wife, Nadezhda, after she committed suicide. Following this admittedly strange period of time, GUM became a department store once again, although in the Soviet Union it operated under a slightly altered name. While historically the “Г” in ГУМ had stood for  “Главный”, meaning “Main”, during the Soviet period it was changed to stand for the word Государственный, or “State”, to reflect it’s now nationalized status. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union the building was returned to private control, and the old name restored.

Today GUM is a popular tourist attraction and the source of many jokes from local Russians, all centered on how expensive most of the stores are. However, the expensive nature of the stores should not deter you from visiting, as even those with no shopping agenda will find plenty worthwhile to see at GUM. Not only is the building itself stunningly gorgeous, many exhibits of depicting what the building was like, or what it sold, or even which movies were popular during the Soviet period are on display year round. The ice cream is also pretty good.

This post was brought to you by Ryan, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz

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