Most visitors limit their Moscow shopping to a few matryoshka nesting dolls and some Soviet memorabilia, but a bit of perseverance can uncover unusual crafts and striking gifts. Hand-embroidered table linens from the textile-producing towns along the Volga are a good buy, as are scarlet-and-gold Khokhloma wooden spoons, intricate wooden Easter eggs, or jewelry cut from richly colored Siberian stones you won't find at home, such as lilac-colored charoite and deep pink rhodonite.
Moscow has also become one of the world's fastest-growing luxury shopping destinations, with a bigger Prada store than Milan, and Russian designers' top-of-the-line creations that sell for jaw-dropping prices. There are also plenty of midmarket clothing chains such as Benetton and Mexx, but overall, Moscow remains less touched by this kind of globalization than other European capitals.
Moscow's vendors are quite market-savvy after more than a decade of capitalism. That means the shocking bargains of black market days are long gone, but it also means that quality is more reliable and competition has livened up the selection of products available. Beware, as in any big city, of con artists on the street trying to sell a "real" silver fox hat or czarist medal for a suspiciously low price.
When you buy anything in Russia, keep in mind that you'll want to take it home -- and Customs officers can bar the export of anything antique, any book printed before 1960, or any painting or other work of art considered of cultural value to Russia. You'll have no problem with the majority of souvenirs, and even the antique or valuable ones can usually be cleared for export by the Ministry of Culture. This process takes a few days, involves getting the item appraised and then approved, and can cost anywhere from 10% to 100% of the item's value. If you're in doubt about a purchase, check with the vendor about its exportability, and also with a tour guide or other third party, if possible. Many hotel concierges can help you get Culture Ministry clearance. Otherwise, you can try contacting the ministry's Moscow appraisal and certification agency (8 Neglinnaya Ulitsa, 3rd floor, room 29; tel. 495/921-3258 or 692-1532). The rules change frequently, but items like samovars and old icons are always on the iffy list.
Hotel gift shops are the most expensive places in town for souvenirs, and heavily touristed areas such as Red Square are a close second. Better bets are the small crafts shops or outdoor markets farther from the center of town. For Orthodox icons and other church-related paraphernalia, the monasteries have the most authentic and attractive selection.
Moscow has no traditional sales tax, so the price printed on an item is the price you'll pay, as long as you know what currency is being cited. Prices include VAT (value-added tax), which adds from 5% to 18% to the item's original price. The Russian VAT is not refundable at the border as it is in some European countries.
Shops and shopping centers are generally open daily from around 10am to 8pm. Food stores open earlier, and kiosks around town are often open round-the-clock. Most stores are closed on Russian holidays, and smaller stores are closed Sunday or Monday. A very few shops still close for an hour at lunch, usually from 1 to 2pm.
Companies such as DHL (11 Pervaya Tverskaya-Yamskaya; tel. 495/956-1000) and UPS (7 Derbenevskaya Naberezhnaya, building 4; tel. 495/961-2211) can ship paintings, rugs, or other large items to your home and take care of any clearances you need.