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Back to USSR: Soviet Style Mall You Should Definitely Shop At In Minsk

The first of its kind in Belarus, GUM department store in Minsk celebrates 65th anniversary this year. There was a time when people went there not only for shopping, but also to spend time like in a museum; the lines to enter the store would sometimes stretch for several blocks.

Learn what makes GUM an interesting place to visit and why you should definitely include it on your list of places to see in the Belarusian capital.

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Retro style window displays celebrating GUM’s anniversary. Picture: citydog.by

GUM stands for the “main universal store”. The name is used to talk about the main department store in many cities of the ex-USSR. The most famous of the GUMs is the large store in the centre of Moscow in Russia.

The place, however, has lost much of its unique atmosphere when it was privatized and turned into a shopping mall with luxury boutiques selling foreign brands in 2000s.

Unlike its Moscow’s counterpart, GUM in Minsk remains an amusing reminder of the fading Soviet shopping experience.

Строительство проспекта Сталина, 1948 г. Минск. Справа - будущий ГУМ. Фотохроника БЕЛТА, архив N 1381. Фото В.Лупейко

Re-construction of Minsk after WWII: pictures are Stalin Avenue and the future GUM. The building with the tower in the back is where the shop was located before the war. 1948, from BelTA’s archive.

 

The store was founded in 1934. The first building was located at the place of present-day KGB headquarters; the new one, opened in 1951, moved a little down the main street.

It could have looked more posh, but the original project was simplified.

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GUM in 1960s. Picture via landofancestors.com.

When designing it, the architects were inspired by the masterpieces of Italian architecture – the north-west facade of the Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza and the library Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice.

Historians say that the store “was a museum and a church for the citizens, and even a place for romantic dates”.

GUM has four floors with many thematic departments – men’s and women’s fashion, footwear, jewellry and accessories, food – on each floor.

Over 70% of goods sold in GUM are Belarusian brands. That’s what makes it stand out: while you find cookie-cutter Zara’s and H&M’s in every European capital, in GUM you can buy original good-quality goods made in Belarus.

Besides shopping, GUM is a place to explore for its architecture, that is a powerful specimen of socialist realism. Wide staircases decorated with columns, impressive sculptures, ornate lamps…

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The store’s hude windows offer a nice view on the main avenue and Lenin street.

By the way, in Soviet time a bust of Vladimir Lenin was decorating the central stairscase. Now the sculpture has been sent to retirement in the back rooms.

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Preview picture by Citydog.by.