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Brighton Beach Shop Brings Russian Gifts and Books to Flatiron

 Brighton Beach-based gift shop St. Petersburg opens first Manhattan location near Madison Square Park.
St. Petersburg Opens in Flatiron
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FLATIRON — A new shop packed with Russian books, nesting dolls and colorful faux-fur hats recently opened in Flatiron.

St. Petersburg, a gift shop based in Brighton Beach, launched its first Manhattan location two weeks ago in a two-story space at 261 Fifth Ave. The store features everything from the latest Russian fashion magazines to imperial porcelain tea sets carefully housed behind glass doors.

“We wanted to bring the beauty of our Russian culture to America, and not just what people are used to, like vodka and Putin,” said Elizabeth Orlova, store manager and daughter of the owners. “You pop in, and it’s a little bit like a museum, because everything is old and expensive and behind glass doors.”

The first floor features gift items including hats, hand-painted lacquer boxes and a wide range of nesting dolls in a range of sizes and themes.

The wooden matryoshka dolls come in small sets of just five dolls as well as bigger ones of up to 30, each fitting inside one that is slightly larger. One of the sets features President Barack Obama and the four commanders-in-chief who preceded him.

Prices of gift items range from $15 for the smallest nesting dolls up to $3,000 for a porcelain tea set.

The second floor is reserved for children's and adult books printed in Russian, while classic Russian books in English translations can be found in a small corner on the first floor.

St. Petersburg originally opened in Brighton Beach 15 years ago, and was considered the biggest Russian bookstore in America at the time, Orlova said.

The 10,000-square-foot shop only carried books at first, but as demand changed, it quickly began to incorporate more unique gift items, she said.

“We had lots of Russian clients, but this was when people used to read books,” Orlova said. "But the neighborhood changed. We were getting a lot more tourists and younger kids, so we had to change our collection of merchandise.”