GUM: The Soviet Department Store

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

The communist ideal of the past has radically changed to a symbol of flourishing capitalism

Red Square: Kremlin to your left, GUM to your right

Государственный Универсальный Магазин, (गोसुदार्वेन्नीई उनीवेअरसाल्नीई मगाझीन / Gosudarstvennyi Universalnyi Magazin – गुम/GUM) or simply known as the State Department Store during Soviet times, is a beautiful building on the north side of the Red Square.


Soviet era: By the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917, the building contained some 1,200 stores. After the Revolution, the GUM was nationalised and continued to work as a department store until Joseph Stalin turned it into office space in 1928 for the committee in charge of his first Five Year Plan. After reopening as a department store in 1953, the GUM became one of the few stores in the Soviet Union that was not plagued by shortages of consumer goods, and the queues to purchase anything were long, often extending all across Red Square.

GUM at night, with the iconic St. Basil’s cathedral

Post communism: At the end of the Soviet era, GUM was partially and then fully privatized. It is open today as a popular tourist destination for those visiting Moscow. Many of the stores feature high-fashion brand names familiar in the west; locals refer to these as the “exhibitions of prices”, the joke being that no one could afford to actually buy any of the items on display. I agree, the prices were ridiculous.

The swanky shopping mall

Indeed, one of my fashion-conscious friends joked, “We go to London or Paris for shopping.” 😉

This post is part of my Russia travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery