Old Photos: Window Shopping In The USSR

This set of photos is interesting in a sense that when I was growing up® nothing like this was left in existence in the majority of the country. The stores were stocked with a scarce selection of products and no need for visual advertising remained:anything that was slightly above the horrible level of the Soviet consumer products was swept off the shelves without hesitation; many times the lines were so long that people in the end didn’t know what was being sold, they figured anything worth buying will find some use at home or would be appreciated by other family members. Sometimes after hours in line, the supplies ran out and disappointed people were off to try their luck elsewhere.
With empty shelves, long lines and sad-looking products around me, it was hard to believe my parents’ stories about many things being plentiful in the  late 50’s and 60’s. Grocery stores filled with caviar and various delicacies seemed impossible to me. Not that I was deprived of  good food and dressed in garb; we had more or less of everything from good food to decent clothing but most of it wasn’t purchased in the regular retail establishments. From black market to bribery, there were other ways to acquire things.

Note: the prices you see on some storefronts are in pre-1961 rubles, in 1961 they were exchanged 10 to 1.

TV Store. Map of the TV coverage in the USSR is visible at the top.©Time, Carl Mydans

More TV's. The sign says "Samples"©Time, Carl Mydans

Another TV store display. Soviet TV's suffered many quality problems. When in 1976 my father went to buy our first color TV someone he knew at the store turned on several sets. Many didn't stay on for long and some had display issues. The only one that worked became our TV and served us without too much trouble until 1992.©Time, Carl Mydans

More from TV and Electronics store. I used to have a very similar reel-to-reel just slightly smaller and weighing less than a small vehicle. Talk about heavy metal.©Time, Carl Mydans

Photo Store. Sign advertises store credit for items over 400 rubles. 400 rubles was a significant amount considering that average monthly income was around 913 rubles in 1960. On the left side there is a drawing of a pioneer with a camera. Photography was promoted in schools and after-school clubs.©Time, Carl Mydans

Shoe Store. Pinocchio is holding a sign "Taking care of your footwear prolongs its usefulness". Sign below "Using shoehorn prevents footwear damage"©Time, Carl Mydans

Liquor Store. Store clerk is visible through the glass wearing a pretty uniform.©Time, Carl Mydans

Cheese display with names and descriptions of various cheeses. In 1983 a display like this would've looked like an insulting joke.©Time, Carl Mydans

Cod Liver. So that ©Time, Carl Mydans

Fabrics ©Time, Carl Mydans

Fabrics ©Time, Carl Mydans

Rugs ©Time, Carl Mydans

Bookstore. Notice some propaganda display in the middle. No one in the right state of mind would buy this literature but it was always printed in huge numbers and sometimes forced on people who wanted to buy a hard-to-find book. ©Time, Carl Mydans

Books ©Time, Carl Mydans

This bookstore display showcases art, sculpture and graphics.©Time, Carl Mydans

Bookstore display by the Academy of Sciences Publication dedicated to the July Meeting of the Central Committee of Communist Party. One of the books "Lenin and Physics" is an example of a propaganda mixed with science. Another book "First photos of the other side of the Moon"©Time, Carl Mydans

Hats ©Time, Carl Mydans

Clocks and Watches. Sign advertises available credit.©Time, Carl Mydans

In the bottom "Large Selection of Time Pieces". Above "Everyone needs a clock"©Time, Carl Mydans

I guess I got carried away a little. To be continued.

  • Very interesting; I like these posts showing what life was like back then in the Soviet Union.

  • Just curious about how many folks could afford the products shown? Strictly middle to upper class? Don’t know anything about the prices shown nor the income of the average Russian. I ask this of my above Average Russian friend.

  • actually I noted under one photo that average monthly pay was 913 rubles,so tv’s and all were pretty expensive. and there were no middle or upper class,we were socialist remember? you’ll find out soon enough 🙂

  • “When I was growing up nothing like this was left in existence in the majority of the country.”

    Ah, the brief joys of socialism. It works great – until it runs out of other people’s money.

    And you’re correct. The U.S. of A. will soon find out unless it changes its wicked ways. Quick!

    • Noah

      Lol this is dumb. The Soviets were State Capitalist and no one even denied it, not even Lenin. Actually Lenin wrote that his goal was to achieve a State Capitalist society without different corporations. Socialism is just period time of transition to communism which is a stateless, classless, moneyless society. So everything you just said was completely wrong.

      • ‘A stateless, classless, moneyless society.’

        Show me one – that hasn’t collapsed under its own murderous, corrupt and bankrupt weight.

  • “You’ll find out soon enough.” You’re probably right, and that’s scary. Trouble is, there doesn’t seem to be a danged thing we can do about it. I’m glad I’m old.

  • By saying the cheese display would be an insulting joke in 1983, are you saying that such a bounty would feel like a taunt because no one was allowed/could obtain the stuff?

    And regarding those who refer to the US = socialist stuff: do you really feel like this country will ever remotely resemble a truly socialist society? Really? And if so, is it in your, say, top 3 fears in terms of likelihood and intensity?

    • That’s correct during the 80’s any kind of cheese would’ve been swept off the sheves,no fancy displays were needed.
      Re:socialism – I don’t think there is or was a true socialist country in the world. Living conditions depend on the balance i.e. 100% socialism like in the ussr pretty dreadful but livable or some mix like in Sweden – pretty nice. The problem is that the systems that went that way are running out of money. In the US the mix is leaning towards capitalism but it allows big companies to pretty much openly steal money from people. I am surprised that there was not a stronger reaction to the financial crimes but I think this can only last for so long.

      • It sounds like you have the same view that I do – my worry isn’t with some buzzword like socialism, it’s with the things that were allowed to happen unchecked for so long that have us in this situation.

  • I travel for JOOLS

    I think the reaction of people to the mess we’re in via the Tea Parties and Town Halls is pretty significant. People are as angry as I’ve ever seen them. And, I think it’s only going to get worse.

  • i was going to ask the cheese question, too. thanks!

  • Hi, M.V.
    I read through a lot of your blog today, and really enjoyed it. Love seeing old photos of Soviet Russia. I, too, grew up hearing about all the things you could buy in the ’50s and ’60s (in the major cities, at least). My family still has some beautiful china, books and holiday ornaments (er, New Year’s tree ornaments) purchased at that time. My father remembers that grocery stores in Leningrad were stocked with sausage, ham, caviar, fish, etc. in those days.

    • Hello, Yulinka. Thanks for reading, I am pretty sure my and your parents are from the same generation and had similar experiences. It was neat to find photos to back up their memories.