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Large Department Stores – Part 1

Today department stores contain a number of different sections that that means that most people are able to do the majority of their shopping in one store. The stores have been emerging since the middle of the 19th century when they started to appear in the UK, France and the United States. Department stores became popular as the result of the emerging consumer society. The industrial revolution had produced a growing affluent middle class who were aware of consumption and different fashions. Now people were given the option of different types of product to choose from where as in the past there had been little choice of variety in the markets.

Bennett’s in Derby the oldest department store in the world

Increasing wealth and mobility turned shopping into a leisure pursuit and soon the ladies of the house were having social visits to shopping areas with friends, catching up on gossip while also viewing some of the fashions being worn in other parts of the country, and even the world. With this new demand being created there were plenty of entrepreneurs happy to try and supply the market.

Early department stores include Bennett’s in Derby that was an ironmonger established in 1734 and it remains trading today. In London Harding Howell and Co started trading in 1796 and had four separate departments to entice its customers. Meanwhile in Paris the Tapis which was a novelty store opened in 1784. The industrial cities soon became filled with the stores. In Manchester the 19th century saw the opening of Kendalls’s, Paulden’s and Lewis’s. Kendalls was the largest with a nouvelle tiled food hall. It was given the nickname of “the Harrods of the north” due to its emphasis on quality and style over cheap prices.

Harrods, in London, opened its doors in 1834 and soon created its reputation as being one of the most famous department stores in the world. It moved to its current Brompton site in 1851 and despite being burnt to the ground in 1883 it has grown into one of the largest stores in the world. The store has 330 separate departments that cover one million square feet of retail space.

Selfridges in Oxford Street

By 1900 Lewis’s had opened up the largest number of chain stores in the country. It had branches in Manchester, Liverpool, Hanley, London, Blackpool, Glasgow, Bristol and Leicester. It was the first store to take advantage of advertising and its policies led the way for other stores to follow. Selfridges opened in 1909 and was located in Oxford Street. The store soon became a pioneer in its promoting the notion of shopping for pleasures as opposed to shopping for necessity. Goods were now more accessible for customers, there were restaurants, reading rooms and there were even science exhibitions in the store.

The success of Selfridges in Oxford Street acted as a magnate for other stores to come and locate. Its location was ideal as it was on the fringe of the centre of London, but was superbly served by transport routes. Today the street has over 300 shops and is visited by over 500,000 people every day who arrive mainly by bus and the tube.

The sheer number of potential customers arriving in the area has acted like a magnate for the department stores and other leading retail outlets. The rent for stores is high but the trade that they can experience is extremely attractive and offsets the high operating costs. When tourists arrive in London one of the most popular places to visit is Oxford Street and many of these visitors will arrive being prepared to spend their money.

Another large store that opened in this period was Harvey Nicholls which is located in Knightsbridge and opened in 1831. The store was aimed at luxury items and was a direct competitor to nearby Harrods. Today it has branches in Leeds, Edinburgh, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, plus several stores overseas. Its growth has optimized the success story of department stores.

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