MOSCOW — Even for non-Russian speakers, Tsum rolls off the tongue easier than the retailer’s initial moniker: Muir and Mirrielees.
One of Eastern Europe’s most iconic department stores, it was born in 1867 when two Scottish merchants, Andrew Muir and Archibald Mirrielees, founded their namesake trading company in St. Petersburg. In the 1880s, it moved to Moscow.
The business partners decided to create a large department store along the lines of Whiteleys in London and Le Bon Marché in Paris. They selected Teatralnaya Square, the site of today’s Tsum. It was billed as the first and largest department store in the last days of the Russian Empire, housed in a building erected in 1907 and prized for its European Gothic architecture with elements of Art Nouveau.
The store boasted many innovations. One of them was a namesake restaurant Muir and Mirrielees where ladies could eat breakfast or drink tea in the company of friends. It enjoyed wide popularity. The store also featured a waiting room, an information service on Moscow and two high-speed electric elevators.
Left of the main entrance was a large perfumery department, something Selfridges in London had yet to create, according to Tsum.
On the first floor, there were also selections of gloves, umbrellas, gold, silver and watches. The second floor was reserved for linens, women’s, dresses, skirts and hats.
Women’s fashions spilled over into the third floor, which also housed departments for children’s suits, men’s wear and sporting goods. Children’s toys, musical instruments and the restaurant occupied the fourth floor.
The vast new building was a luxurious treat not only for shoppers but for employees, too: Workshops for women’s hats, dresses and watches on the sixth floor were spacious and illuminated with electricity, while the sales halls were lit with gas lamps.
In 1917, a Moscow guidebook observed: “The concrete and glass building of Muir and Mirrielees, the only universal store in Russia, is curious as a representative of a new culture, more and more embracing Moscow.” The store catered not only to the rich and high-society circles, but also the middle strata of the population.
With the advent of the Soviet Union, Muir and Mirrielees was nationalized, and on March 10, 1922, the largest department store of the capital was re-christened MosTorg. In 1933, it was given its current name, the Central Universal Department Store, or Tsum.
Following the collapse of the socialist state, the store was privatized in 1992. It is understood ownership was initially spread among certain employees, along with some independent investors and private equity funds.
Major renovations commenced in 1995 to expand the retail space, modernize the layout and improve the appearance of the building. Competed in 1996, the works increased the sales area to 32,900 square meters or about 354,000 square feet.
Luxury distributor Mercury Group became a strategic, majority investor in 2002 and assumed management of the vast store, foreshadowing a further transformation. Mercury ultimately increased its stake and delisted the business. Mercury Group was established in 1993 by Leonid Fridlyand and Leonid Strunin and also operates the Tretyakovsky Proyezd shopping arcade, among other banners.
In 2004, construction of a new Tsum building commenced and was completed three years later. Now the total space — 70,000 square meters or 753,000 square feet — is spread across three buildings: the historic one, an addition constructed in the Seventies, and the latest structure.
In 2008, Tsum opened a branch in Barvikha Luxury Village and in 2011, it added online sales at tsum.ru. Physical expansion then proceeded also outside Moscow in 2012 with the opening of a branch in Saint Petersburg dubbed DLT, the modern successor of the legendary House of Leningrad.
The first Tsum Discount outlet, promising luxury goods at maximum price cuts, debuted in the MEGA Teply Stan shopping center in 2009. Today there are six locations in Moscow and its vicinity, according to the store’s web site.
Shops by Louis Vuitton and Apple arrived in the Moscow flagship in 2015 along with a space dubbed NG x TSUM, supervised by the store’s creative director Natasha Goldenberg, who boasts 252,000 followers on Instagram.
The recent economic crisis, exacerbated by sanctions, prompted management to institute a daring “Milan pricing” policy, forgoing big markups in the hopes of encouraging wealthy shoppers to purchase at home. It is understood that the retailer reduced its markup to 2.4 times from 3 times the wholesale price. It worked like a charm and also attracted an influx of Chinese tourists. Visits in 2016 by Chinese doubled.
In 2017, the Apple Pay and Alipay systems were adopted and a trio of Dior shops-in-shops were added in order to celebrate the 110th anniversary of Tsum.
Coming on stream this year are two new floors housing restaurants, a beauty salon and a wedding salon, along with a tax-free shopping scheme bound to further fuel the tourist trade.