All sales are final

A store record from the day of evacuation of Pripyat.

Sometimes, the small things may tell a very big story. We found this report several years ago in a small staff room in one of the shops in Pripyat. And it gave a sharp feeling.
It is a journal of the store’s supervisor, open on the page dated «April, 27» — on the day when the population of Pripyat was evacuated. What is clear, it was filled in a very big rush, ignoring the lines, while the preceding page from April, 26 is accurate.

Shop record from Pripyat
A shop record from April 27, 1986.

On the left is a summary of currency bills accumulated (or taken for collection) in cash registers — 943 roubles total. As for 1986, the Soviet rouble had denominations of 1, 3, 5, 10, 25 as mostly used, as well as 50 and 100 (many never saw this bill in their life, though), so this list is structured per value of the bills.

Soviet roubles
Banknotes of 1, 10, 25, and 100 Soviet roubles from our collection. About the cash register in which they reside, we will tell in the next articles.

As for the right column, it brought questions. The problem was, that the meaningful part of the previous page was virtually destroyed by mold, making the actual numbers unreadable to refer to them. So we decided to consult with one of our friends, who worked in the Soviet stores in 80-s. She said, that as there are few specific marks missing, there can be two interpretations — in «plus» or in «minus» meanings. 

If in «plus»:

  125398.16  — goods total value according to the final revision
– 124397.29  — accounted gross sales total up to the date
= 1000.87    — expected difference
+ 114.34     — some fresh addition
= 1115.21    — gross total that was available in cash
– 943.00     — amount of cash in registers to send to the State Bank for collection.
= 172.21     — and this remained in the shop.

Described looks slightly unrealistic, as 172 Roubles (nearly $300 by that time) is way too much for a morning change — especially that would not happen soon due to the evacuation. The more probable «minus» variant may look like this:

  125398.16  — goods total value according to the final revision
– 124397.29  — accounted gross sales total up to the date
= 1000.87    — expected difference
+ 114.34     — some fresh addition.
= 1115.21    — gross total that had to be available in cash
 943.00     — this is what actually was available in cash registers
= 172.21     — deficit

The deficit could appear as a result of backdoor sales. This is a guess only, and although we do not want to mean anything bad about shop staff, this phenomenon was too widespread. In the Soviet Union, with its centralized, planned economy a permanent lack of certain types of goods was a norm, as well as a constant need to spend a lot of time in long lines to buy something specific. This made a friendship with (here — a direct translation) certain needed people very valuable. They were those, who were involved in sales, distribution, logistics and could make a sale before the needed product will appear in the store's shopping hall or even before the store itself. Often, such sales were unaccounted or written-off. To fight this was one of the tasks of OBKhSS — Department Against Misappropriation of Socialist Property, ОБХСС, or, in other words, Soviet finance police.

The fresh addition of 114.34 roubles may be a regular sale. However, it may be something very different.

There is one, little-known episode of the 27th of April, that not many witnesses even remember, as it happened suddenly and took a short time. There was a flash-sale of goods dispatched from the Department of supply of Chernobyl NPP — a storage facility from which the stores in Pripyat were supplied. Suddenly, in the shops appeared rare products, and on the streets — sale stands.

Some of the hangars at the Department of Supply of the Chernobyl NPP
Some of the hangars at the Department of Supply of the Chernobyl NPP (ORS, ОРС ЧАЭС), modern days. 

Lyubov Syrota, the head of the cultural department of the Palace of Culture, mentioned it in her "The Pripyat Syndrome" novel, based on real events:

Indeed, in addition to several types of smoked sausages and other scarce food products — even for military and nuclear cities that are well supplied from the state reserve — today in the central grocery store in Pripyat there are many rare, almost "exotic" stuffs, including sour cream and other dairy products in new, before unseen here, convenient plastic packaging.

— Why would that be? .. - NikNik is surprised too, taking off and wiping his glasses.
— Well, for the May holidays, probably, — suggests Valya, «sharpening the vision» on the meat department, which is unusually filled with beautifully packaged chicken carcasses and different varieties of beef and pork.
— No, guys! Apparently, it was in relation of the arrival of the honored guests!… — Sophia states.
— Exactly! — confirms Vasily.
— Oh, poor them! Did they really have to empty all their party stashes?! — Irina tries to ironize.
— Ha! Do you think they can do something to their own detriment?! Keep your pocket wider! — Olga sarcastically responded.
— You’re right, something’s wrong here — Sergei, silent today, agrees with her.
— Right, not right! What to guess, such surprises in our life are extremely rare... So come in, while there is something! — hums Sophia, heading to the queue in the sausage department.

And friends, dispersed around the store, began to shop with pleasure. They took full advantage of the «happy moments» by standing in several lines and spending all the available cash. An accident is an accident, but the holidays are really just around the corner!

As soon as they, already with their purchases, left the grocery store, a powerful palace radio reproducer spoke loudly, transmitting an official message in a cheerful female voice:

— Attention! Attention! Dear comrades! The City Council of People's Deputies informs (...)

As at that moment the scale of the overall situation was not clear, it is hard to confidently judge now, whether that was cynical disposal of goods, an attempt to cover some painful accounting issues or just a local voluntary decision.

The fact is, that many people spent their money on April, 27th. What happened next — read in our future articles.

P. S.:

A small, and not directly related comment — as we few times got the question — were all payments based on cash? Were any credit cards in USSR?

Well, yes and no. At that time, all consumer payments were cash-based (except some specific cases of using special checks). Credit and debit cards were accepted only from foreigners within Intourist branches and in Berizka stores (both were managed by Vnesheconombank — Bank for Foreign Economic Affairs of the USSR). A low number of Soviet Visa and Europay cards were issued by the bank. According to rumors, some — for high officials.

A consumer version of credit cards, issued by the State Savings Bank of the USSR was presented in 1990, and around one million of them were produced, mostly for Baltic republics. I remember, in the press of that times was possible to find articles explaining, what the bank card is and how does this way of payment work. However, the cards did not reach the point of wide use. Shortly after the collapse of the Union in 1991, a state monopoly was lifted off, and the issue of cards by commercial banks started.

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