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Beriozka (Russian: Берёзка, lit. "little birch tree") was a twin chain[clarification needed] of state-run retail stores in the Russian SFSR that sold goods for hard currency. Beriozkas sold goods that were generally unavailable in regular shops. In English-language advertisements and signs, the spelling was always "Beriozka" rather than the strictly accurate transliteration "Beryozka."
One chain that belonged to the Vneshposyltorg (Foreign Mail Order Trade) was intended for Soviet citizens who received some income in hard currency. Some of them were forced to sell their currency for ruble-denominated Vneshposyltorg checks, while others never laid their hands on foreign currency, receiving their pay from Western sources in Vneshposyltorg checks via Soviet intermediaries. The checks were to be used to purchase goods in the Vneshposyltorg Beriozkas.
The other chain sold goods directly for foreign currency and for Vneshtorgbank series D checks. Soviet citizens (except for high-ranking officials) were not allowed to enter these stores as they were legally forbidden to be in possession of hard currency.
The hard currency stores were named Beriozka only in the territory of the RSFSR. Other republics of the Soviet Union had similar stores usually named after their "national trees." For example, hard currency stores were named Kashtan (Chestnut) in the Ukrainian SSR and Chinara (Oriental plane) in the Azerbaijan SSR, etc.
There were also separate Albatross stores in the Soviet port cities, e.g. Vladivostok, that sold goods to Soviet sailors returning from abroad. The Albatross stores sold goods for Torgmortrans checks issued by the Department of the Soviet Naval Fleet in exchange for foreign currency earned by the sailors.
Beriozka stores were opened in 1964. Their predecessors were Torgsin stores of the 1930s and the highly ineffective Vneshposyltorg departments of the large Soviet department stores (e.g. State Universal Store) that allowed catalog mail order from abroad by customers paying in hard currency.
Beriozka stores became obsolete in the early 1990s when conversion of rubles into hard currency was allowed. The stores were privatized and in the mid-1990s most were closed as uncompetitive.
Many other countries had similar institutions, such as Intershops in the German Democratic Republic or Friendship Stores in the People's Republic of China, though some of these systems allowed anyone with hard currency to shop there.