Abstract: Making Community Connections in the Department Store

Stephanie Dyer


This paper examines the history of the locally owned department store business model as a distinctive example of large-scale retailing based on localized, place-based consumption. In distinction from the dominant trend toward national and international chain store retailing geared toward maximizing economies of scale by maximizing the geographic extension of its outlets, department stores worked by intensifying their consumer ties within limited urban and regional areas. The paper examines the way department stores promoted themselves as civic actors rooted in a local community. By developing distinctive "brand" identities based on cultivating their social capital within their local contexts, department stores created a strategy of mass consumption that was explicitly dependent on their immediate environment. Rather than being creatures of a free market unaffected by specific political, social, and cultural contexts, a department store brand was a product of its embeddedness in its local context.