From main street to mall

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from main street to mall

From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store by Vicki Howard

The geography of American retail has changed dramatically since the first luxurious department stores sprang up in nineteenth-century cities. Introducing light, color, and music to dry-goods emporia, these palaces of consumption transformed mere trade into occasions for pleasure and spectacle. Through the early twentieth century, department stores remained centers of social activity in local communities. But after World War II, suburban growth and the ubiquity of automobiles shifted the seat of economic prosperity to malls and shopping centers. The subsequent rise of discount big-box stores and electronic shopping accelerated the pace at which local department stores were shuttered or absorbed by national chains. But as the outpouring of nostalgia for lost downtown stores and historic shopping districts would indicate, these vibrant social institutions were intimately connected to American political, cultural, and economic identities.

The first national study of the department store industry, From Main Street to Mall traces the changing economic and political contexts that transformed the American shopping experience in the twentieth century. With careful attention to small-town stores as well as glamorous landmarks such as Marshall Fields in Chicago and Wanamakers in Philadelphia, historian Vicki Howard offers a comprehensive account of the uneven trajectory that brought about the loss of locally identified department store firms and the rise of national chains like Macys and J. C. Penney. She draws on a wealth of primary source evidence to demonstrate how the decisions of consumers, government policy makers, and department store industry leaders culminated in todays Wal-Mart world. Richly illustrated with archival photographs of the nations beloved downtown business centers, From Main Street to Mall shows that department stores were more than just places to shop.

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"Howard's book is essential reading From Main Street to Mall makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of retailing and of business more broadly in.
Vicki Howard

From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store

Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Clearly, the rise and fall of the locally oriented Main Street department store has been a significant development affecting the urban landscape and consumer experience of the Middle West. The framework, moreover, rests on a strong research base and insightful analysis leading to persuasive arguments concerning how and why older and previously accepted accounts are in need of revision. Her notes reflect a deep and fruitful immersion not only in the published scholarship on the subject but also in governmental investigations, media accounts, the relevant trade press, business history archives, and a number of department store collections. The outcomes, she contends, were also tied to and shaped by the actions and inactions of federal, state, and local policy makers, regulators, judges, and legislators. And at several points she delves deeply into the political battles, regulatory laws, and court decisions that were involved.

The geography of American retail has changed dramatically since the first luxurious department stores sprang up in nineteenth-century cities. Introducing light, color, and music to dry-goods emporia, these "palaces of consumption" transformed mere trade into occasions for pleasure and spectacle.
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From Main Street to Mall makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of retailing and of business more broadly in the U. This [could] serve as the standard U. Rather than acquiescing to the commonly accepted inevitability of market forces leading to the decline of department stores, Howard traces the various private and public actors and political processes that have consciously contributed to their decline. Historians of consumer culture have always known of smaller stores in smaller cities, but nobody paid attention to them until Vicki Howard. A significant contribution. A must-read for researchers of American consumer culture and for anyone who loves to shop.

Surprisingly, thanks to the ubiquity of mass merchandisers the homes of the poor and the rich may contain many identical goods, such as non-stick cookware, toilet brushes, shoe racks, birthday balloons, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of common everyday objects, most of them made by low-wage workers abroad. Through much of the 20th century our clothes, our accessories, and the goods that furnish our houses came from department stores that occupied major downtown intersections. And who can avoid them completely? Where else can you buy a picnic cooler or back-to-school supplies? Unlike most books that have been published about department stores, she wraps the subject in no enveloping mystique. The book is more a story of decline than rise. Her focus on the industry and its relationship to government policy sets it apart from books on the history of department stores that have come before it.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Philfailanscom says:

    From Main Street to Mall: The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store | Reviews in History

  2. Lucina T. says:

    Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,

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