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Cathedrals of Consumption? Provincial Department Stores in England, c.1880–1930

Stobart, JON (2017) Cathedrals of Consumption? Provincial Department Stores in England, c.1880–1930. Enterprise & Society, 18 (4). pp. 810-845. ISSN 1467-2227


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The department store is often seen as a revolutionary force: transforming retail practices, shopping experiences, and the high street. It is variously lauded for its role in the democratization of luxury, the introduction of price ticketing and unfettered browsing, and the creation of a fantasy world of goods. As is so often the case, reality is more complex than the image, especially when we move away from the bright lights of the metropolis and start exploring the high streets of provincial towns. Based on a thorough trawl of trade directories, I explore the regional distribution of stores in their 1930s heyday and examine how this distribution developed over time, pushing the discussion back to consider the varied origins of provincial department stores. I then turn to the spatial organization, selling practices, and shopping experience of small samples of stores, questioning the extent to which they formed a monolithic retail type.

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