Beryozka (Russian retail store)

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Vneshposyltorg checks were used for paying in Beryozka stores

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 generally unavailable in traditional Soviet markets and shops. In English-language advertisements and signs, the spelling was always "Beriozka" rather than the more conventional transliteration "Beryozka." Such shops allowed the Soviet government to collect foreign currency with efficiency and to then use that currency to purchase goods and services from the countries issuing the currency, countries which might offer poor exchange rates for Soviet rubles but would honor their own currency at its face value.

One chain belonged to the Vneshposyltorg (Foreign Mail Order Trade) and was intended for Soviet citizens who received some income in foreign 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 (which, again, allowed the foreign currency to stay in Soviet government hands). 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 foreign currency.

The foreign 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, foreign currency stores were named Kashtan (Chestnut) in the Ukrainian SSR, Chinara (Oriental plane) in the Azerbaijan SSR, and Dzintars (amber) in the Latvian SSR. Beriozka stores were present only in the biggest cities, most prominently Moscow.

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 foreign 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, Pewex in Poland, though some of these systems allowed anyone with foreign currency to shop there.

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