MOSCOW — For black marketeers, it was a black day indeed: Levi Strauss & Co. opened its first store in the former Soviet Union on Friday, seeking to button up one of the world's most jeans-starved markets.
Hundreds of perfectly legal customers pressed up against the windows and struggled to wriggle into the Levi's store when the doors opened at--what else?--5:01 p.m.
An entire generation had scrounged for second-hand Levi 501s in hotels and tourist spots, or paid the high prices of black marketeers.
The Levi's store, about two blocks behind the Bolshoi Theater, is owned jointly by Levi Strauss, Moscow's Central Department Store and a Russian trading company named Golden Star.
A Levi's representative said prices are higher than in the United States, but lower than in most European Levi's stores. Basic five-pocket jeans are $49.
That's out of sight for most Russians, whose average monthly salary in January was just $23. Inflation, now about 25% a month, has eaten up their savings.
But for many people, a pair of jeans is not just a pair of pants.
"When the rate of inflation is like it is now, people prefer to invest in goods than keep their money," said store manager Olga Mamonova. "They want to invest in something of real value."