Beryozka (Russian retail store)
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Beriozka (Russian: Берёзка, lit. "little birch tree") was the overall name applied to two chains of state-run retail stores in the Russian SFSR that sold goods in exchange for foreign currency. Beriozkas sold luxury goods such as chocolate and caviar that were often unavailable or unaffordable in traditional Soviet markets and shops. In English-language advertisements and signs, the spelling was always "Beriozka" rather than the more conventional transliteration "Beryozka." The Soviet ruble was not internationally convertible and the government needed foreign hard currency to buy goods and services from abroad and the Beryozka shops were an efficient source of hard currency.
One chain belonged to the Vneshposyltorg (Foreign Mail Order Trade) and was intended for Soviet citizens who received some of their income in foreign currency. The foreign currency had to be exchanged for ruble-denominated Vneshposyltorg cheques, either by the recipient or by government intermediaries.
The other chain sold goods directly for foreign currency and for Vneshtorgbank series D cheques. Only foreigners and Party apparatchiks were allowed access to these shops.
The foreign currency stores were named Beriozka only in the territory of the RSFSR. In other republics of the Soviet Union different "national tree" names were used. For example, foreign currency stores were named Kashtan (Chestnut) in the Ukrainian SSR, Ivushka (a tender diminutive for "iva", ivy) in the Belarusian SSR, Chinara (Oriental plane) in the Azerbaijan SSR, and Dzintars (amber) in the Latvian SSR. Beriozka stores were present only in the major cities, most prominently Moscow.
There were also separate Albatross stores in Soviet port cities, such as Vladivostok, that sold goods to Soviet sailors returning from abroad. The Albatross stores sold goods for Torgmortrans cheques 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 the ruble became fully convertible with other currencies. The stores were privatized and in the mid-1990s most were closed as uncompetitive.
Many other socialist countries had similar retail chains, such as Intershops in the German Democratic Republic or Friendship Stores in the People's Republic of China, Pewex in Poland, though some of these systems allowed anyone with foreign currency to shop there.