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shops

shops. Britain has been described as a nation of shopkeepers, but shops did not really come into existence until the later Middle Ages. Before then, buying and selling occurred through fairs, market-stalls, artisans' workshops, or itinerant pedlars. Progression from open market to covered market-hall extended as the frequency of markets increased and permanent storage for merchandise was required: a shop on street level at the front of the house had workshop/service rooms behind and dwelling-rooms above, the shutter of its large unglazed window being let down to form a display counter. As trading began to separate from manufacture, London became a shop-window for the whole country, its own shops smart, seductive, and increasingly stocked with imported goods. The provinces could hold their own, though: Celia Fiennes (1698) found Newcastle's ‘shops are good and are of distinct trades, not selling many things in one shop as is the custom in most country towns and cittys’.

With growth in population in the 18th cent., a burgeoning middle class, and money available for more than bare necessities, towns expanded and retail trade gained in vigour. As shops became more numerous, hence more competitive, projecting shop-signs became larger and heavier, so increasingly dangerous, until they were banned (1762), after which they were affixed over doorways or flat against the frontage. Even though railway development enabled fresh food to reach town shops more easily, much food sold was adulterated, but it was not until 1872 that inspectors were empowered to procure samples for analysts' reports. Not only could goods be transported more quickly from producer or manufacturer to retailer, but customers could travel easily into towns to purchase. The number and variety of shops increased considerably, sometimes grouped in arcades, larger windows enhanced display, and large speciality stores transformed themselves into departmental stores modelled on the French pattern; by the First World War, these were widely established.

As the family tradition of shopkeeping began to decline, shops were transformed from places fulfilling known needs to premises attracting new customers and creating new wants. One route to growth was the Co-operative movement, founded in 1844 by the Rochdale Pioneers. If a retailer opened additional shops, his chain of stores could reduce operating costs, standardize quality, and offer special price reductions yet still increase profits ( W. H. Smith, Boots). Supermarkets, whose pattern was set in 1930s America, did not develop in Britain much before the 1960s; they operate primarily on a self-service basis, and tend to drive small independent food retailers out of business. Since the Second World War, there has been a growth in shopping precincts, then malls, often financed by real estate developers, which aim to provide for every need under a single roof in attractive, climatically controlled environments; out-of-town hypermarkets rely on car ownership, so usually provide generous, free parking. Corner shops and village stores have suffered accordingly, though catalogue houses and e-commerce attempt to fill the gap for non-food purchasing.

A. S. Hargreaves

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