The spacious shopping mall known at the Gosudarstvenny Universalny Magazin (State Department Store) or “GUM”, as it’s more usually called, occupies almost the entire sidewalk of the Red Square opposing the Kremlin Wall. The retail paradise of the GUM reminds us that even before the fires suffered during the Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon, the Red Square has always been the central market place of the city. During the rule of Ivan the Terrible (the sixteenth century Czar who failed his attempts to marry Elizabeth I of England) the entire square had been overcrowded with ramshackle home-made market stalls, usually put up by the stallholders themselves. After three centuries of being insanitary eyesore, the square was cleared out of both grime and small-scale hustling upon personal intervention of Emperor Alexander I, and the traders were evicted from the Red Square.
New covered market was built on the neighboring plot of land to the square (where GUM stands). There stallholders were obliged to rent trading posts under new stricter market management. Architect Osip Bové designed an attractive neoclassical facade for this new covered market, but in truth it was merely putting an attractive exterior on the same old chaos of the insides.
The present building of GUM was erected on the place of the previous covered market in the end of the nineteenth century. Tender for the design project was announced in the form of the official competition, and unexpectedly the project presented by the team of architect Pomerantsev and structural engineer Shukhov was chosen, despite it was the most extravagant and expensive. The project was the marvel of its age, comprising three spacious multi-level aisles running along the full length of the building, enclosing trading aisles designed with a nod to ancient Russian style.
This magnificent building went far beyond a simple modernization of the former unpleasant covered market. The new trading centre offered every kind of modern convenience such as boutiques of luxury goods from all over Europe, banking houses, barber shops, police station. Bell-boys service and expedited delivery to any address of the Russian Empire were also available.
GUM was given a second life in 1953, when the Soviet Government took a decision to rebuild and renovate the entire premises. The project was officially declared as “urgent state project” meaning that construction teams from all over the country were urged to Moscow for 24/7 work to secure the deadline. the first “Department Store” in the USSR now officially rebranded as just GUM opened its doors again three months entirely restyled.
Goods that were in short supply in the rest of the country were still available in the GUM, and buyers from all over the USSR came in crowds to witness such abundance, politically interpreted as the evidence of success of the Soviet economic policy. The Kremlin, the Red Square and the GUM were three must-see sights for Moscow visitors in the 1950s.
The newly constituted USSR has rapidly stuck a spoke into the well-oiled wheels of capitalistic commerce. The GUM walked through the remain of the twentieth century as the shop-window of socialism, a pale shadow of its former self. Until the middle of the twentieth century the GUM remained government-owned enterprise.
The GUM nowadays has readjusted itself once again as a retail centre aimed for luxury recreational shopping. The GUM has returned to its original goal - a shopping center populated with retail stores of the world’s leading brands. It is no longer that single trading store created by Soviet-era superiors in 1950s.
The GUM’s nineteenth-century shareholders imagined a mixture of boutiques, cafes, grocery stores, beauty salons and other attractions for visitors from all over Russia. Same marketing concept was at last reestablished. The exterior of the building nowadays is decorated with bright nocturnal illuminations sometimes not matching the exterior.