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15 glorious photos of historic department stores

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A brief history lesson to inspire your holiday shopping

Opulent domed interior of department store with inverted Christmas tree and stained glass windows on the ceilings.
The Galeries Lafayette in Paris is one of the world’s most beautiful department stores.
Photo via Shutterstock

With the frenzy of holiday shopping in full swing, department stores sure know how to get you in their doors—or at least staring at their gorgeous windows. Despite the crowds (and the commercialism) of the season, there’s still something so impressive and old-school about the grand buildings that they occupy.

So, before the American mall breathes its last breath—or until it figures out a way to stay relevant—here’s a look at some of the world’s most iconic historic department stores, from Detroit to Moscow to Paris, some of which are still standing today—and some of which, in the case of many of the United States’ first one-stop shops, have been taken over by Macy’s.

Harding, Howell & Company’s Grand Fashionable Magazine, London, England

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Opened in 1796 in London’s St James’s district, Harding, Howell & Company’s Grand Fashionable Magazine is considered one of the world’s first department stores. The destination for fashionable women was divided into four departments and sold furs, fans, fabric for dresses, haberdashery, jewelry, perfume, and, of course, millinery.

Macy’s (originally R. H. Macy & Co.) New York City

Photo by Detroit Publishing Co., Copyright Claimant, and Publisher Detroit Publishing Co. ca. 1908, from the Library of Congress

Macy’s began as a chain of dry goods store in Haverhill, Massachusetts in 1843. When all of them shuttered, the founder, Rowland Hussey Macy, decided to move operations to New York City in 1858, where business grew to encompass more departments. In 1902, the flagship store moved to Herald Square at 34th Street and Broadway, where it’s still doing brisk business today.

Hudson’s, Detroit, Michigan

Photo by Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library via Historic Detroit

Hudson’s, which began in 1881, was the second biggest department stores in the U.S. during the 1960s after Macy’s, with Marshall Field’s in third, and was considered, at one point, the tallest department store in the world. Sixteen of its 25 stories were “selling floors,” and, at its peak, employed 12,000 employees and served 100,000 shoppers a day. It also had the country’s third largest switchboard after the Pentagon and the Bell System. The Detroit flagship store closed in 1983.

Marshall Field’s, Chicago, Illinois

Marshall Fields in Chicago. Photo from between 1907 and 1910.
Photo by Detroit Publishing Co. from the Library of Congress

Marshall Field & Company also began as a dry goods store in 1852. Its State Street flagship location is now home to a Macy’s, which acquired Marshall Field in 2005.

Crowley’s Detroit, Michigan

Photo from the Detroit Free Press Archives via Historic Detroit

Crowley Milner and Company was an upscale department store founded in 1909 by brothers Joseph, William, and Daniel Crowley, and William Milner. Offering luxury clothing and goods imported from Europe, as well as a full-service restaurant and grocery store, Crowley’s, a direct competitor of Hudson’s, became Michigan’s biggest department store. The company closed its doors in 1999.

Wanamaker’s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photo by Carol M. Highsmith, from the Library of Congress

Wanamaker’s was the first department store to open in Philadelphia. John Wanamaker started his operations in 1876 in the former home of the abandoned Pennsylvania Railroad station, calling it the Grand Depot. He began rebuilding it piece by piece in 1910. Wanamaker’s was famous for its Christmas Light Show. It is now occupied by a Macy’s.

Woodward & Lothrop, Washington, D.C.

Photo from the Library of Congress

Woodward & Lothrop, or Woodies, opened in 1887 and was the first department store in D.C. Its former flagship is now occupied by major retailers including H&M, Zara, and West Elm.

Galeries Lafayette, Paris, France

Photo by KeongDaGreat via Shutterstock

Completed in 1912, Galeries Lafayette’s flagship on the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris is considered one of the most beautiful department stores in the world. The upscale chain began in 1895.

Harrods, London, England

Photo by BBA Photography via Shutterstock

Charles Henry Harrod began as an enterprising grocer and tea merchant. In 1849, he opened the world-famous department store on Brompton Road, where the current flagship still sits. Harrods was sold to the state of Qatar in 2010.

La Samaritaine, Paris, France

Photo by Kiev.Victor via Shutterstock

La Samaritaine was founded in 1869 by husband-and-wife Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ, who happened to be the first clothing vendor at rival department store Le Bon Marché. Now shuttered, its flagship, the 11-story art deco Grands Magasins de La Samaritaine, located on the banks of the Seine by the Pont Neuf, was completed in 1933.

Selfridge, London, England

Photo by Eugene Regis via Shutterstock

The United Kingdom-based retail chain was started by an American, no less. Harry Gordon Selfridge, of Ripon, Wisconsin, who was later known as the Earl of Oxford Street, founded Selfridges & Co in 1909. Its flagship on Oxford Street is the second largest store in London after Harrods. Selfridge, the man, championed the customer early on and is credited with transforming the shopping experience into a leisure activity.

Lord & Taylor, New York City

Photo by DW labs Incorporated via Shutterstock

Founded in 1826 by Samuel Lord and George Washington Taylor on Catherine Street, Lord & Taylor is the oldest luxury department store in the United States. Its Fifth Avenue flagship by Starrett & van Vleck was landmarked in 2007.

Arnold Constable, New York City

Photo by Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., from the Library of Congress

Arnold Constable & Company was founded in 1825 and operated until 1975. It was known for serving high society clients including the wives of Andrew Carnegie, Grover Cleveland, Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Carson Pirie Scott & Co., Illinois

Photo from the Library of Congress

Carson’s was founded in 1854 by Samuel Carson and John Pirie in LaSalle, Illinois. It occupied the historic Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building (now known as the Sullivan Center), which was designed by Louis Sullivan in 1899 for retail company Schlesinger & Mayer then sold to Carson’s in 1904.

GUM (State Department Store), Moscow, Russia

Photo by Gilmanshin via Shutterstock

The grand halls of Moscow’s State Department Store (now a shopping mall) occupy the glass-roofed Upper Trading Rows, which were built between 1890 and 1893, and are situated by the Red Square, the capital’s central square.

Rich’s, Atlanta, Georgia

Rich’s last flagship store opened in 1924.
Photo via Wikipedia

Rich’s began as a dry goods store called M. Rich & Co. in 1867. Operating throughout the South, it shuttered its doors in 2005.

Sources: BBC, The History of Department Stores, The Department Store Museum