03 May 2012

Surprising Russia... Chapel, Apartments, and a Basement Supermarket in One Complex!

Capitalism, Religion, Sports... blended in one building complex.

We went to the clinic Tuesday.  We arrived around 11 to find the office closed till 2 pm.  They had  switched their hours.    Everyone has to be somewhere, so it didn’t bother me much.

An unexpected supermarket...

Since our plans were frustrated, I suggested we compensate by visiting a nearby supermarket, Диета 18 (Diet 18).  It’s in a new multi-tower apartment, called Zenit, after St Petersburg’s leading pro football (soccer) team. 


Эенит (pronounced Zen-eet) is fortunate to have the backing of Гаэпром (Gasprom).  Wikipedia.



Slanted footrest (suppedaneum) cross of the Russian Church. Wikipedia.

My guess is this complex is funded by GasProm, the government owned oil and gas company, for the use of Team Zenit and the Russian Church.

Information in Russia is more protected than given, so we will have to wait to see if the chapel will become active and what Team Zenit’s relationship is to this complex.

Lavish excess is frequent in Russia.

Russian culture tends to excess... ostentatious, over the top... getting to what seems like the ultimate, and then adding more.  So it’s only a little surprising this complex includes a golden domed chapel with a Russian cross.

A simple crucifix in an otherwise empty chapel window.


Taking the escalator to the store.

A down market...

Walking through the supermarket door we were faced with a staircase wide enough for a coronation, with escalators on both sides.  The one on the right took us to this basement supermarket!  On a return trip for photos, I was surprised to see some teenage boys bounding up 20 stairs with purchases.

A grand stairway for a super market

The shopping carts, the uniforms, the floor .. everything was new.  Most of the customers appeared elderly.  They were there for the Pensioner 5% discount.

A checkout ladened with impulse items.

Waiting for business, instead of generating it...

No one greeted us, no free samples, nothing tempted us to return.

I could see a lack of business smarts... no excitement generated, no loss leaders.1  They weren’t hustling for  customers.  This passive approach to business is typical in Russia, but hard for a New Jersey businessman to accept.

1. A loss leader is an item priced below wholesale to entice customers. Then you can expect some to buy other items priced with a good profit margin.

Apartments are mushrooming in St Petersburg.  Even a poorly run store has a good chance of success because of the surging population from these new bird cages.  But Russian business could do better and faster with top marketing.

A Diet 18 Supermarket...

Once I got off the escalator, it felt like what it was... a basement... a slightly claustrophobic sensation, like I was still working in the Ship’s Office below the water line on the USS Wainwright.  I get this intimation stronger yet when I am underground.

My Scottish grandma, on the cellar stairs, would say, ‘Down amongst the dead men!’ and ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust!'.  She was literate and had a Glasgow sense of humor. 2

2.  Ashes to ashes... The Book of Common Prayer, 1662.

The many mirrors did make it feel more spacious but I think a few phony windows would also help.


Low key entrance with a small crucifix above the automatic doors.

We’ll keep the card, but may never use it!

I asked if they had a discount card and the checker asked back if I were a pensioner.  Now we have a 5% discount card which applies from hours 900 to 1300.  I told Larissa that the smiling old people on the card would be portrayed in the USA as active seniors, playing tennis or jogging.

With a low volume of customers, I wonder how fresh the food can be... date stickers can  be covered or replaced.

We found little that set Diet 18 apart.  Slowly we left the market with that guilty stroll I used as a kid when I thought I might be suspected of shoplifting. 

Food quality better in Russia than in the USA...

Throughout Russia, the produce and meat often are tastier and of a better quality than  what you generally find in the USA... no genetically modified grains, few or no hormones in the meat, few chemicals or preservatives. 3

3. American expats sometimes comment how bread in Russia gets mold in a few days... It’s natural, but to them it’s a phenomenon.

Season Supermarket is a favorite.

Most markets have quality food, but they vary in how they present it to the consumer. Season market, close by on our city block, has a wide selection, lots of specials, their own prepared entrees, a graduated discount card based on your annual purchases to date (we now get 10%)... and great music!

True, store managers are usually behind a closed door.  There’s no Service Counter with photos and names of the manager, assistants, the Employee of the Week.  Employees are secretive about the manager’s name or whether he’s (in Russia, unlikely she’s) in the store.

The boss won’t think it important if you can’t find an item, or want him to stock something, and he really doesn’t care about  a complaint from you.  He will not apologize for the store if you have spoiled food or some other problem.  He may solve your situation, but probably in a brusque manner.

In our supermarkets, it’s unlikely you’ll forget you’re in Russia ...

We have babushkas (grandmothers) smashing their shopping carts through the crowded isles!  There is no unit pricing.  But where else can you buy on impulse at the check-out smoked fish to enjoy with vodka?


We look forward to your comments!

Have you found a supermarket in another strange setting?

Has that ‘old basement feeling’ ever gotten to you?

What’s good or bad about food shopping in Russia?



  1. Whole Foods in Rockville,MD,has the opposite effect...2 levels of underground parking,then escalators or elevators to the first floor for shopping.

  2. I visited China around 1992 - the department stores were like the ones I remembered from my childhood with everything under glass counters, lots of assistants and the feel of turning the clock back by about 40 years. Mind you the prices were very reasonable and everything locally produced.

  3. Hi MJ,

    That sounds like an ideal set up. Wish we had a Whole Foods in my neighborhood as it's hard to find the stone ground grains I like for baking.


  4. Hi Rob,

    That must have been a wonderful trip to China 20 years ago. Been cogitating how things have changed in Russia just these last 12 years.

    I have ordered your book, Spain Exposed, today. It's a great way to enjoy a visit to Spain vicariously!

    Thanks for commenting.



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