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Department store

A department store organizes its goods by departments, such as women's clothes, home furnishings, electronics, and the like.

Department stores range from collections of elaborate, fancy shops to practical outlets for ordinary merchandise. They differ from ordinary stores principally because of their size and range of merchandise.

There are a number of classes of department store, discount stores, such as Kmart, Wal-mart or Target were sometimes called junior department stores in contrast with more full-fledged stores like Sears or Macy's.


Department stores arose in the 1870s though the exact first is not possible to determine. Both New York City and Chicago claim the title. Some argue that the Hudson's Bay Company of Canada was the first store with departments. The Hudson's Bay Company began operations in 1670, but it is not clear when it could be classified as a department store.

They sprung up along Michigan Avenue in Chicago, with stores such as Marshall Fields. In New York, pioneers were McCreary's and Abraham & Strauss.

In the beginning the departments were leased out to individual merchants, but by 1900 the smaller companies were purchased or replaced by the larger company. In some ways they were very similar to our modern malls, where the property owner has no direct interest in the 'departments' or 'stores,' other than to collect rent and provide utilities. Today only the most specialized departments are leased out. This could include photography and photo finishing, automotive services, or financial services. But this is rare. Even the store restaurant is usually run by the department store now.

Virtually since the beginning department stores featured food courts, entertainments, specialty and seasonal kiosks. These were joined together in spectacular buildings with central atriums, with the departments arrayed around this center. The owners of the larger building usually advertised his department store as a bastion of convenience and ease, but left individual departments free to advertise themselves.

Department Stores in New York City

Along Fifth, Sixth and Seventh avenues in New York, between 14th Street and 23rd Street still stand the old buildings, now put to other uses. The migration of department stores further uptown began as early as 1900, and was completed by 1930. This period also saw the end of individual merchants with in department stores and the creation of single ownership enterprises.

Department Stores worldwide

In 1906, Harry Gordon Selfridge a junior partner in Marshall Fields left America to set up a department store, Selfridges in London. After it opened in 1909 it stimulated wide-ranging changes to British retail practice, and the establishment of further department store chains.

See also