TsUM – You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
by Paul Miazga
Virtually every country in the world has them: department stores. Germany has Kauf Hof, the Dutch have Bijenkorf, the English have Marks & Spencer, Canada has the Bay (the last remaining vestiges of the fur-trading Hudson’s Bay Company) and the United States has Sears, but most people think anyway of Wal Mart. They’re all places where you can get designer brand-name clothing, watches, perfumes, kitchen and bath items, shoes, sporting goods, even food – you name it, they likely have it. So what’s Ukraine’s equivalent to all this? TsUM (www.tsum.com.ua)
TsUM, or the Tsentralny Univermag (Central Department Store), happens to be located right in the center of the city at the intersection of Khreshchatyk and Bohdana Khmelnytskoho streets. It’s a large, five-storey building that was built during Soviet times as a place where the average citizen could buy just about anything. It has been a successful formula across Europe and North America, so naturally it works here, too.
Surprisingly or not, Kyiv isn’t the only city in Ukraine (or even in the former Soviet Union) to have a TsUM. Even small cities, such as Khmelnytsky, have them albeit on a much smaller scale. Also of note, the first TsUM, in Moscow, was opened in 1885 thanks to the efforts to two pioneering Scottish merchants, Muir and Mirrielees. While their names have long been forgotten, this store to beat all stores found its place in Imperial Russia and then the Soviet Union. The Kyiv TsUM, by the way, opened on May 1, 1939.
While many old Soviet-era shops along Khreshchatyk are quickly closing down for lack of customers, TsUM is thriving; it’s a place where goods are often far cheaper than you’d expect to pay elsewhere in the city and the customer service has really turned the corner to become friendly and even helpful. The TsUM in Kyiv, while it used to be a terrible place to buy anything of value, has for years now become a seriously viable alternative to shopping elsewhere in the city. Five years ago there were no elevators; now there are two. About five years ago name-brand fashions were few and far between there. Now inside the store they even have outlets of major western labels (Columbia, for one), plus large sections of the store dedicated to stock from the likes of Brooks, Adidas, Coco Chanel, Yves St. Laurent and others, not to mention a range of household and other personal items. They even have a selection of tropical plants and home gardening items on sale on the first floor.
Given that Kyiv is yet to be a shopper’s paradise for anyone but regional oligarchs visiting the capital, it’s nice to know that it’s not always necessary to run from one mall or store to the next to get many nice things all in one place. And, despite the turn to modernity, TsUM still reminds shoppers that they are still in a building run by ex-communists. Just ask the lady who gets paid to sit all day at the top of the escalators to prevent people from walking down them (they don’t work). Or, better yet, just try to get past her.