Lecture: "The World of Department Stores"

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Downtown department stores were once the soul of America’s Broadways and Main Streets, Britain’s High Streets, and Paris’ boulevards. They were much more than mere businesses selling goods. Department stores symbolized a city’s individuality, energy, wealth, and progressiveness. They were local institutions where people could listen to concerts, see fashion shows and art exhibits, learn how to knit or play bridge, pay utility bills, plan vacations, and eat lunch. For women, they served almost as personal clubs. The story of downtown department stores is as fascinating and diverse as the stores’ names, owners, and merchandise lines. The department store’s history embodies much of popular history: the rise of decorative design, women’s career paths, the growth of consumerism, and the technological complexity and inventiveness in such things as escalators and pneumatic money tubes. Just as the big stores made up their own little universes, their stories are microcosmic narratives of worldwide culture and society. Consumer historian Jan Whitaker will  tell the story of the golden age of department stores using a wealth of images, many from her own collection. This lecture is free and open to the public.