Retail Nation: Department Stores and the Making of Modern by Donica Belisle

By Donica Belisle

The event of strolling down a shop aisle – replete with screens, salespeople, and countless selection – is so universal we regularly fail to remember retail has a quick heritage. Retail Nation lines Canada’s transformation right into a smooth customer society again to an period – 1890 to 1940 – whilst shops corresponding to Eaton’s governed the purchasing scene and promised to bolster the country. department shops come to be brokers of contemporary nationalism, however the state they helped to outline – white, consumerist, middle-class – was once extra restricted, and contested, than nostalgic graphics of the early division shop recommend.

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Industrialization also increased during this period, as did the populations of major industrial centres. By 1871, the population of Hamilton was 27,000, Saint John was 28,800, Halifax was 29,000, Toronto was 59,000 and Montréal was 115,000. 13 In response to both the increasing availability of goods and their cities’ growing populations, such enterprising merchants as Henry Morgan in Montréal, Timothy Eaton in Toronto, and Robert Simpson in Toronto began enlarging their operations. Morgan’s had opened in 1843 and by the 1870s was Canada’s biggest store.

Coupled with years of prairie drought, these conditions spawned what is rightfully remembered as a decade of deprivation. 8 percent between 1933 and 1939 alone. This seeming discrepancy between job and crop loss, on the one hand, and spending increases, on the other, is explained by the fact that the bourgeoisie and employed petite bourgeoisie continued to spend, even while unemployed workers and crop-less farmers became destitute. Regrettably for department stores, workers and farmers were key customers, and as the fortunes of these groups suffered, so did the fortunes of the big stores.

Each department was then assigned its own sales and clerical staff. Departments such as millinery, dressmaking, and furniture also frequently boasted their own craftspeople. When department store owners’ existing buildings became too cramped, they purchased surrounding properties and added piecemeal expansions to their existing structures. When they accumulated sufficient capital, they then demolished their ad hoc assemblages and in their place constructed massive multistoried buildings. Using the most modern building materials, ventilation and heating systems, lighting techniques, and decor available, these buildings dominated urban landscapes by sheer virtue of their size and architectural beauty.

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