x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Moscow shops make night of it

The sheer enormity of Moscow, long work days, oppressive traffic and overcrowding has spawned a slew of 24-hour businesses.

Just after midnight, shoppers browse through the Respublika bookshop in central Moscow, one of many businesses now open all hours.
Just after midnight, shoppers browse through the Respublika bookshop in central Moscow, one of many businesses now open all hours.

MOSCOW // Just after midnight on a recent Friday morning, shoppers were perusing books and bobbing their heads to CDs on oversized headphones at Respublika, a trendy all-night bookstore in Moscow's main thoroughfare, Tverskaya Ulitsa. Oksana Kalitskaya, a 41-year-old administrative assistant with her family in tow, had just bought a book on graphic design for her 16-year-old daughter, Kristina, a ballerina with the Bolshoi Theatre. Kristina was shopping for a CD about pregnancy.

Remnants of the inconvenient Soviet consumer options still persist in Moscow - from shops closed for hours on end for stocktaking, to stores with long-winded protocols for buying groceries. But the sheer enormity of the city, long work days, oppressive traffic and overcrowding has spawned a slew of 24-hour businesses in recent years catering to customers seeking everything from tanning beds to root canals.

"We do our grocery shopping late at night, too because the stores are largely empty," Ms Kalitskaya said. For Kristina, long days make late-night trips to the store her only shopping option. "I work in the theatre until 10pm, so I buy everything at night: groceries, books, music," she said. "Mainly it's because of the intense working day and the enormous amount of time one spends commuting to and from work," said Anastasia Dmitriyeva, founder of the website Round24.ru, which catalogues around 700 all-night businesses operating in Moscow.

"When I was an office employee, my working day often ended at 10 or 11pm, and there weren't always so many 24-hour businesses to choose from," said Ms Dmitriyeva, who says she regularly does her grocery shopping late at night and has even sought dental care after midnight. Visitors to Ms Dmitriyeva's website show a particular interest in all-night pharmacies, takeaway food and notaries public, as well as currency exchange offices and auto repair shops, she said.

"Several months ago people started getting interested in all-night tyre-changing shops," Ms Dmitriyeva said. Vera Mashchenko, a business development executive, said she gets her car washed almost exclusively after hours. "If I manage to leave work at a decent hour and go shopping or go to the car wash, I get stuck in traffic, and when I finally arrive I have to wait in line," said Ms Mashchenko, 31. "At night there is no traffic and no lines. At rush hour you can grab a bite at a cafe and after that have an easy drive to the car wash."

Russia's ministry of industry and trade recently caused a small uproar in the Russian blogosphere and among large retailers with a proposal limiting the late-night hours of large, round-the-clock grocery chains in a bid to level the playing field for smaller retailers. Andrei Golubkov, spokesman for Azbuka Vkusa, a chain of upmarket grocery stores that stay open round-the-clock, said about 20 per cent of the company's annual turnover comes from night shoppers, most of whom buy their food between 10pm and 1am.

"I think in the end that all sides will understand that retail is one of the most important branches of the economy, and that retail chains ? are forming a civilised format of commerce that best meets shoppers demands," Mr Golubkov said. To the dismay of some in Moscow, a wide selection of all-night grocery stores have not made it to every corner of the Russian capital. "In my district there's only one 24-hour store where you can buy something to eat, or you can just die of hunger," said Natalya Zavoronkova, 28, who works in sales for a media company.

"I shop there sometimes, and sometimes just order sushi at night." Nadezhda Potulova, also 28, a business development manager, meanwhile, said she's particularly fond of Moscow's all-night tanning salons. "You can get a dose of vitamin D anytime you want," she said. cschreck@thenational.ae