Olympic Games gear is the hot item no matter where you go in Sochi. Every train station, sidewalk and stairway is full of people sporting red, white and blue Russia hats and jackets and knit IOC mittens in Olympic-ring colors.
The central source for most of the merchandise is in Visa’s souvenir shop located in Olympic Park.
Naturally, the only card accepted within its walls is Visa.
“As long as everyone know ahead of time, that’s alright,” said 23-year-old student Jason Paul Williams from Manchester, England, as he waited in line. “If you don’t have a card, it could be a problem, but sponsorships are how these things happen. Visa paid for this.”
Like just about every other food court, ticket office or security checkpoint in Sochi, there’s a queue to access the shop. Store personnel control the flow of customers into the store to reduce the congestion. At times, volunteers block off sections of the store so they can be cleaned and restocked.
Arnella Bochorov, 24, picked up some tracksuit-type jackets, nesting dolls and t-shirts from the shop. The Sacramento native made multiple trips to the store, waiting in line between 30 to 60 minutes.
“All the Americans have really liked the outfits volunteers work in,” she said. “It was well worth the wait.”
Many of the items inside are not marked with prices. Price checks are only available at the register, so customers don’t learn the cost until it is time to pay.
Smaller souvenir stores can be found in some locations, including the entrance to Olympic Park and in train stations. The merchandise selection varies slightly, but prices are consistent near the costal cluster of the Olympic Venue.
To get into the store at the Team USA House in Olympic Park, however, you’ll need a US passport.
Two major designers, Ralf Lauren and Nike, dominate the inside. The official Team USA Polo Ralf Lauren cardigan commands nearly $800. For a light, puffy, down-filled Team USA jacket, buyers need $400 plus tax to take it home.
Those with a little less cash might prefer the Nike Team USA Light jackets. Made in Vietnam, they’ll set buyers back $185.
Besides merchandise, Budweiser is also available in the Team USA house, a rare commodity on this side of the world.
Some travelers seem to prefer fewer official souvenirs, like airline employee Betty Anderson, 49, and her friends visiting the country. They had traveled to other Olympic cities and noted some shopping differences.
“[Beijing] was commercialism to the max,” she said. “I don’t see that here. London had very few souvenir places. … You couldn’t get anything.”
A large sporting-goods store in Sochi proper hosts the full repertoire of souvenirs, including hockey pucks, clothing and stuffed animals, but also sells commemorative sporting goods. Sochi 2014 skis, ski poles, snowboards, helmets, boots, shoes and more are only available at this location. Some smaller items, like magnets and key chains, are marked as “made in China.”
Representatives at the store noted that business had picked up since the Games began. They also said they notice few Americans or other foreigners, with the exception of Canadians.
Other gift shops across the region also sell commercial merchandise. Customers looking for better deals can find them. A small stuffed animal that would cost more than 700 rubles in Olympic Park can be scooped up for 465 rubles elsewhere.
Here’s a sampling of items and costs:
Samsonite Sochi 2014 luggage
Sochi 2014 Coffee Mug
Small Stuffed Animal
Sochi 2014 Knit Hat
Sochi 2014 Bed Sheets
Sochi 2014 Ornament
Sochi 2014 Ice Skates
Bosco Russia Jacket
Children – $226.00
Adult – $255.53
Bosco Team Russia Jacket
BSU at the Games is a freelance news agency operated by 41 student journalists reporting from the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games through an immersive-learning program at Ball State University.