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Department Stores and Shopping Arcades

Le Bon Marché, September 2011
Wikimedia Commons 
I love visiting both Paris and London and I've been to both quite a few times before. There's one kind of place that I love to visit when I'm in either city. They are those grand department stores, like Harrods and Galleries La Fayette. It reminds me of a time gone by. There is so much history, but at the same time history is still being made in those places too. Consumers go in there day in day out, everyday still. In class last week I learned about the history of those places and retail shopping in the broader sense and I wanted to tell you all about that.

Have you ever been to one of Paris' shopping arcades? A shopping arcade is a straight covered passage that runs from one street to the next. You can find them all over Paris and other European cities. There is one in the Hague that I often visit, I love how beautiful it is. Shops are lined on both sides and lighting has been provided ever since they have been introduced in the 19th century. I personally think they are beautiful and well worth a visit. I learned last week that those shopping arcades are the predecessors to shopping malls and department stores all over the world.

The oldest shopping arcade in Europe is actually not in Paris, but in Brussels. It's called Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, but you can find similar structures in Paris. The oldest covered passage in Paris is Passage des Panoramas. It was opened in 1800 when the streets of Paris were still narrow, dark, muddy and crowded. Not exactly a good place for shopping at one's leisure. The passages or shopping arcades provided a save place to shop. Lighting made it inviting, a place away from criminality and coldness outside. The stores in the Arcades were different then the shops we know today. There were no fixed prices, no windows that lured customers in. The tradition back then was that as soon as you entered a shop, you were expected to buy an item. The passages were the beginning of a change in Paris it's street plan.  A few decades later, in 1848, Haussmann began his great renovation of Paris and grand boulevards were introduced.

With the introduction of shopping arcades, shopping changed from a necessary activity into a pleasurable one. It became an activity that was enjoyed by females in their free time. And after Haussmann's renovation of Paris, another place to shop was introduced: department stores. Boulevards all over town became more attractive and space opened up to built department stores along those boulevards. Lots of them still exist now, and not just in Paris, but all over Europe. A few including: Le Bon Marche, Printemps, Galleries La Fayette, Selfridges, Harrods, Liberty, House of Fraser.

People were lured into department stores by beautiful display windows. Those displays conveyed a new world, a fantasy world, that gave a different meaning to certain items and the whole experience of shopping. Something you see in the extreme in shopping malls nowadays. It was all a means to strategize a way of turning a passant into a consumer and make sure that consumer didn't leave the building without something in their hands. Nowadays I sometimes feel like all we do is consume, like everything is an item that we can simply buy and that has become part of our identity. It's fascinating to learn about how that all started.

My favourite department stores, I've been lucky enough to visit visited include: Liberty, Harrods and Galleries La Fayette. But these few are still high on my list:

Selfridges is a tv show I haven't seen yet, but it sounds like it's a show that would be interesting to see in light of this topic. I think it's time to watch the first episode. Do you know more about this topic and do you like to shop in these places too? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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  1. I also love seeing the old school shopping arcades and department stores, they're usually so beautiful. Unfortunately I'm never able to afford to actually buy anything from those places haha!

  2. I honestly didn't know any of this! Thank you for sharing and teaching me something :)

    -Leta | The Nerdy Me

  3. I never really visit shopping arcades when I'm travelling but I live in Cardiff and we have the oldest ones in the Uk, I think, they're always so super pretty

    The Quirky Queer

  4. Looks BEAUTIFUL! x
    My blog: www.justmorgs.com

  5. The images looks so beautiful. You just learn something new everyday :D

    Joyce | Joycentricity


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