Russian-style Harrods for Red Square

It is enough to make Lenin turn in his mausoleum, where he lies only metres away across Red Square. A Moscow businessman has bought a large stake in GUM, the legendary Soviet-era retail store in Red Square opposite the Kremlin, and plans to turn the symbol of Communist Party privileges into a supermarket.

GUM, which is the Russian acronym for the State General Store, was a popular trading hall for merchants during the czarist era. But in 1921 it became the communist state’s exclusive shop, where rare goods could be bought.

Since the Soviet empire collapsed, the complex has come to epitomise the extravagant wealth of Russia’s hyper-rich, and it now houses little more than rows of expensive boutiques, between which bemused tourists and the capital’s army of millionaires flit.

But last week Bosco di Ciliegi, a Russian luxury goods company, paid $100-million for a 50% stake in the complex, according to the Kommersant newspaper — perhaps the biggest retail deal in Russia’s post-Soviet capitalist history.

The company’s head, Mikhail Kusnirovich, told Kommersant that the company’s first plan for the historic building that fills almost an entire flank of Red Square is to open a huge supermarket on its ground floor.

Kusnirovich said he wanted to turn it into a Russian-style Harrods, perhaps replacing some of the franchise boutiques with a bigger store intended to attract tourists.

It is one of several changes the historic square will have to endure in the coming years. A Spanish company has been given the right to build a big luxury hotel and casino next to GUM and opposite the entrance to the Kremlin.

The government’s guests are expected to make use of its penthouse suites, multi-level underground car park and blackjack tables.

Metres away, another Moscow landmark is under threat: Europe’s biggest hotel, the hideously ugly Rossiya. The mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, has expressed his desire to level the 3 000-room rectangular building. He said last week that the eyesore, built in 1967, had to be dismantled.

While the building itself is not protected by legislation, its proximity to the Russian seat of power limits the uses the site can be put to.

It was feared that Luzhkov might fill the space with another example of his favourite architecture — a modern skyscraper — but officials said that would be out of the question.

Preliminary plans favour a functional complement to the supermarket on Red Square — a multi-storey car park. — Â



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