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Some Moscow Stores Empty, Some Full

September 8, 1998

MOSCOW (AP) _ Alexander Morozov casts a despondent look down the main aisle of his supermarket, where a few cartons of milk and packets of noodles stand out against otherwise empty, dusty shelves.

Buyers cleaned out the store last weekend. In order to refill the shelves, Morozov estimates he will have to boost prices by 40 percent.

``If I raise my prices that much, no one will be able to buy goods,″ he worries.

Throughout Moscow, the need to raise prices, balanced by a fear that shoppers won’t be able to afford them, is leading many stores to scale back on imported goods and focus more on basic foods, especially those made in Russia.

Morozov is working out a plan to stay in business during Russia’s economic crisis. He says he will sell only dairy products, meats and grain, buying a little at a time. He admits it may mean goods will sell out quickly and consumers may have trouble getting some products.

``I can’t sell imports because today the ruble is at 20 to the dollar, and tomorrow it will be at 25,″ he says. ``If the situation gets any worse, I’m going to have to close down completely.″

Adding to the problem, Morozov said his wholesalers have stopped delivering some goods. They’re waiting for the ruble to stabilize before setting prices even on Russian goods, which are also getting more expensive.

Despite the dreary outlook, other shop workers were more sanguine Monday. With reliable suppliers, they are stocking up on their normal goods even though prices are rising steadily out of range of most Russians.

``We’ll always have the necessities,″ said Natalia Orlova, the head accountant of a small supermarket. ``But of course our prices are up by 20 to 50 percent.″

Consumer attitudes about the price increases varied, but few appeared to be panicking. While some stood in line to snatch up goods still selling at old rates, others said they were buying no more than usual because the latest price increases made stocking up unrealistic.

``Maybe we’ll buy extra grains, but not much else,″ said Anna Samoilova, a 29-year-old computer programmer. ``In the stores there is no sugar, no oil, no grain. If groceries are still on the shelves, they’re at unspeakable prices.″

Many Russians were philosophical about the latest crisis, resigned to the idea that they will lose money and unwilling to scour the city for cheaper products.