Shops and Stores
Shops and Stores
SHOPS AND STORES
Montserrat M. Miller
One of the most pervasive structures in the history of retail commerce has been the small urban shop. With origins dating back to the classical period and before, small shops have been a characteristic feature of the geography, economy, culture, and sociopolitical fabric of towns and cities since the eleventh-century revival of urban life in the West. Eastern Europe's towns and cities, while following a somewhat distinct economic and historical pattern, also featured shops as one of the main vehicles for the retail sale of goods even during communist rule. The term "stores" is generally used by historians to denote larger retail entities that sold a wider variety of goods. Department stores, known in France as grands magasins, first became established in the mid-nineteenth century, introducing important changes in the way many city dwellers acquired clothing, textiles, and other household and personal articles. Likewise, self-service grocery stores and supermarkets, appearing in European cities in the post–World War II period, have over the course of the last half of the twentieth century profoundly altered the way in which most households are provisioned.
European social historians have mainly been interested in shops and stores because their past is deeply intertwined with that of the guild system and the emergence of the bourgeoisie, because they reveal much about how municipal corporations controlled economic exchange, because they are crucial institutions for the study of consumerism, because they raise important questions about the nature of women's work in the past, and because of the range of political and economic responses to industrialization and the emergence of mass consumer society that their owners exhibited. Thus the history of shops and stores is particularly significant to historians concerned with urban life, social structures, work and gender, retail business, and political movements in the industrial era.
THE RISE OF THE SHOP
The rise of shops in Europe was deeply intertwined with the revival of urban life in the eleventh century. Throughout western Europe, the growth of towns involved increases in the numbers of artisans and traders. At first finding room within existing town walls, the expansion in numbers of artisans and traders was soon accompanied by the growth of new neighborhoods, frequently known as burgs, outside of the increasingly limited fortified space. Most items were sold to the urban populations of eleventh-century western Europe at markets, usually located in church squares and long regulated by ecclesiastical authority; the new commercial districts of towns were the site of the first actual shops. Most frequently, these early shops consisted of windows through which artisans such as blacksmiths, butchers, cobblers, and bakers could sell to passersby on days and at times when the town's periodic markets were not in operation. It appears that in many areas, local authorities discouraged such commerce because it was more difficult than open-air markets to regulate on behalf of the consumer. Still, through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries more and more artisans sold from their windows, thus increasing the amount of commerce taking place in the burgeoning towns and establishing the legitimacy of the workshop as a point from which retail trade could be conducted.
These early artisanal shops, many of which featured shutters that folded down by day to serve as sales counters but whose windows eventually became doorways through which customers passed in order to make their purchases, were distinct from the retail merchandise shops that would appear and proliferate later on. The earliest artisanal shops only sold goods that were made on the premises and linked consumers directly with producers. These shop owners frequently offered their wares at the town's markets as well and, along with other prosperous townspeople, participated in guild organizations and the development of local commercial codes. The earliest artisanal shop owners, then, were among the groups central to the formation of the urban polity. Attached to individual residences, these shops were family operations with both husbands and wives participating in the commercial enterprise.
From approximately the thirteenth century forward these first shop owners began to be joined by a new group: itinerant traders eager to settle in towns and engage in retail commerce. These newcomers were distinct from the artisanal shopkeepers in that they were essentially middlemen, selling goods they had purchased elsewhere, sometimes second- or third-hand. The successful among these new merchants joined town guilds and imitated artisanal shop owners by establishing points for the retail sale of merchandise that were part of a permanent residence and that had an opening on the street, either a window shutter sales counter or a door through which customers could pass in order to make a purchase. Few members of this new group participated in town markets, preferring instead to concentrate their sales in the vibrant burgs and take advantage of the lively flow of foot traffic that characterized urban spaces through the high Middle Ages. So while markets of various types remained important elements of the urban retail structure in most areas until the late nineteenth century, shops began to compete effectively with markets for customers from at least the early twelfth century forward, becoming a crucial part of town commerce.
Shops quickly caught on in the new urban centers of Europe, and their numbers and variety proliferated. The generally favorable individual living standards of the mid-fourteenth through the mid-sixteenth centuries contributed to this growth. In addition to grocers (who tended to sell by weight), tailors and drapers (who generally sold by measure), shops that sold artisinal objects, and shops that sold secondhand goods, a plethora of shops that offered services were added. Scribes, notaries, pawnbrokers, apothecaries, wine merchants, and tavern keepers of numerous varieties all opened shops in large towns and cities and added to the expansion of urban commerce. Steep hierarchies accompanied this growth in retailing. At the top of the economic order were wealthy merchants concentrating in profitable long-distance trades while at the bottom were peddlers without so much as a market stall from which to sell. Small shop owners occupied a vast middle ground and succeeded in consolidating their position within the urban polity.
While municipal authority in many western European cities was dominated by wealthy merchants who formed a patriciate, the interests of modest shopkeepers were reflected in commercial law and, of course, in the corporate regulation of the guilds. Most of the rules governing exchange were designed to prevent unbridled competition, maintain quality, and control prices. Both the nature of the product being sold and the process of retail exchange were also governed by municipal codes and/or guild rules. Shop owners were authorized to sell particular goods and could not expand their line without a new permit. Purity, weight, price, and workmanship were also frequent targets of regulation. Hours of operation, weights and measures, and working conditions were all subject to corporate controls. Even the nature of communication between shopkeepers and customers fell under the regulatory purview of municipal and guild authority. Craftsmen, for example, were sometimes forbidden to call out to passersby or engage in any other method of attracting consumers to their wares. The history of shops shows quite clearly that western European urban polities of the Middle Ages offered opportunities to accumulate capital through the profits derived from small-scale retail commerce, although enterprises that sought to do so certainly operated within a context that maintained relatively tight controls over the act of economic exchange.
Still, it would be erroneous to conceptualize shops as isolated and autarkic enterprises operating within towns characterized as closed systems. Urban history has in recent years emphasized the dynamic relationship between medieval towns and cities and the regions within which they were located. Studies of individual shops illustrate the complexity of the relationships linking urban and rural areas in the Middle Ages. Shopkeepers, and especially grocers of virtually all varieties as well as market vendors, had to maintain ties with rural suppliers in order to serve their urban customers. Town life may have been quite distinct from country life in the Middle Ages, but as the relationship between shops and their sources of supply clearly indicates, the boundaries were permeable.
The history of shops can also reveal much about the emergence of the bourgeoisie, the relationship of work to family life in preindustrial cities, and gender divisions of labor. At the core of the earliest bourgeoisie was the population of urban artisans and shopkeepers. The growth and development of their enterprises and their efforts at self-regulation and self-government illustrate how this crucial urban social group carved out a place for itself in the hierarchy of classes. Examining the way that shops operated allows us to understand how central family labor was to the emergence and economic consolidation of the bourgeoisie. Shops, attached to households, were family enterprises, and often a simple curtain was the only barrier that separated living from retail spaces. Husbands, wives, and children each contributed to the economic survival of the family, and thus boundaries between work and home were blurry indeed. Though the precise nature of the gender divisions of labor appear to have changed somewhat over time, with women losing ground in terms of artisanal production as the Middle Ages waned, shops were clearly business enterprises in which women's labor was ubiquitous and essential. Whether women were engaged in some element of production, in providing food and lodging for workers, or serving customers who came through the doors, the social history of shops sets in bold relief their very active and direct participation in the economy of preindustrial cities.
By the close of the Middle Ages shops had become a tremendously important element of the urban morphology of western Europe. Frequently arranged by specialty, shops of given varieties lined particular streets, giving them distinct flavors and personalities. Avenues dotted with jewelers and silk merchants, for example, exuded a greater air of prestige than did streets whose shops specialized in cheese and other edibles. These arrangements certainly shaped the lives of urban residents. One of the legacies of this pattern is that many western European cities still have, in their old quarters, street names and a certain flavor derived from the types of commerce that municipal authorities allowed. On the other hand, some types of shops, such as bakers, butchers, and greengrocers, were seldom grouped together and were more frequently distributed by authorities throughout the urban landscape in order to provision more efficiently the city's distinct quarters. However distributed in specific instances, shops and the nature of the commerce taking place in them gave town and city districts distinct characters.
RETAILING IN THE SEVENTEENTH AND EIGHTEENTH CENTURIES
The numbers of shops in many areas of western Europe, including England, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy, grew dramatically in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This growth appears to have occurred throughout the retail hierarchy: luxury shops became more abundant but so too did marginal secondhand shops, as did crude inns and taverns catering to lower-ranking members of society. In many cities, the conversion of residential buildings into shops on prominent streets caused a shortage of rental property for the wealthy. Such a proliferation of retail outlets, while both contributing to and reflecting the growth in complexity of the distribution network, was not indicative of any sort of golden age of shops in the early modern period. In fact, shopkeeper bankruptcy became quite common in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In some places the number of retail outlets proved to be larger than the economy could sustain.
The widespread use of credit was one factor that contributed to the growth in the number of shops but also increased economic precariousness. By the seventeenth century shops were using credit extensively: they frequently relied on the extension of credit to them by wholesalers, paying for their stock in installments over time, and they extended credit to their customers, wealthy and humble alike (although the rich were always extended credit more generously and leniently than the poor). Failure to receive credit from suppliers and delays or customer refusals to settle outstanding accounts were typical ongoing fears for shop owners. While allowing the economically marginal to obtain materials to sell, the increasing reliance upon credit by shops could, and frequently did, prove disastrous to the survival of small retail enterprises.
But the growing reliance upon credit was only one of numerous changes occurring in this period: it now appears that the eighteenth century in particular witnessed a transformation in the way that many shops presented and displayed their goods. A great many shops in the towns and cities of western and central Europe became more elaborate. Shops selling luxury goods led the way by adding crystal chandeliers, mirrors, and elegant furnishings. The use of glass increased tremendously, both in the fixtures holding merchandise and in display windows, which became the objects of competition between shop owners. In addition, shop signs began to incorporate greater elements of artistry with the use of new materials chosen to announce more explicitly the elegance and prestige of the enterprise in question. More humble establishments imitated these changes as best they could, while shops on main thoroughfares gave increased attention to aesthetic issues. Such transformations only reinforced the already existing hierarchy of shops, more firmly differentiating so-called backstreet shops, whose resources and pretensions were more limited, from elegant shops in fashionable districts.
The early modern period also featured, first and most notably in England, the emergence and growth of a new type of retail shop catering to the increasing consumption of sugar, caffeine drinks, and tobacco between 1650 and 1750. The growing demand for these items, imported from abroad and not traditionally available in village markets, contributed to the appearance of small general grocery stores, mostly in rural areas. In addition to the new stimulants and various provisions, these retail outlets tended to sell semidurables such as clay pipes, glass, and ceramic tableware. While preexisting shops in large towns and cities took up the sale of these items, new retail outlets came into existence in the countryside to meet growing demand for groceries and housewares, and became quite common in rural England and America by the close of the eighteenth century.
Alongside these physical and structural changes, and the overall growth in the number of shops in the early modern period, social historians have identified a shift in the attitudes of ordinary people toward the act of purchasing and consuming material goods. From their outset shops had been sites for more than just economic exchange: literary and artistic evidence along with extant personal testimony illustrate the lively and ongoing sociability between shopkeepers and customers that took place as part of the process of buying and selling. But the research on this subject now shows quite clearly that something new was afoot as early as the seventeenth century: a form of consumerism was emerging among the popular classes in many areas of western Europe long before industrialization. Consumerism, social historians maintain, involves new levels of personal satisfaction from acquiring goods, as well as new assertions of social standing through purchasing and displaying material objects. The early modern variant of consumerism seems to have focused on clothing and housewares. Though the bulk of the research deals with England, studies indicate that other areas also became increasingly consumerist, thus helping to explain the expansion in the number of secondhand clothing shops and shops selling semidurable household goods. Changes in the way that shops presented and displayed merchandise, the growth in their numbers, and the new financial arrangements through which they operated are all of significance because they constitute one of the external manifestations of the early emergence of consumerism. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, shopping began to take on new meanings, beginning its transformation into an important new leisure-time activity for the middle and working classes alike.
THE AGE OF THE DEPARTMENT STORE
Building on early modern shifts, considerable changes also occurred in the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century history of shops and stores. It was in this period that guild controls over urban commerce came to an end in most places, thus lifting impediments to organizational innovations in commerce. With industrialization maturing and urbanization advancing, the long nineteenth century witnessed the emergence of large-scale, highly capitalized retail structures along with an enormous increase in the variety of manufactured goods for sale. With wages and leisure time gradually increasing and mass advertising becoming more common, the second half of the nineteenth century in particular featured the spread and deepening of consumerist values. From the early modern focus of demand on clothing and housewares, nineteenth century consumerism widened to include children's toys, novels, holiday decorations, items such as oriental rugs, pianos, and bicycles, plus popular entertainment such as dance hall performances. Department stores, chain stores, and mail-order companies emerged and expanded rapidly to meet the new mass demand for manufactured goods and commercial services.
Of all the new forms of highly capitalized large-scale retailing, the department store has received the most systematic scholarly attention. Originating in the 1850s and 1860s, the grands magasins of Paris were the first real department stores. These grew in size and number until the eve of World War I, quickly spreading to England and then other parts of Europe, including tsarist Russia. In many ways department stores could not have been more different than the small family shops that had long dotted the urban landscape. Scale was the most obvious characteristic distinguishing department stores from shops. These new stores offered expanding and diversified lines of merchandise that drew, by the 1880s, some ten thousand customers a day into the Bon Marché alone. By 1911 the twelve largest department stores in Paris employed more than nine hundred persons each, contrasting sharply with the vast majority of retail enterprises whose average number of employees was ten or less. In some instances, nineteenth-century Parisian department stores offered on-site dormitories as well as organized and respectable leisure activities for their employees. It was not uncommon for department stores also to provide free medical services, accident insurance, and pension plans. In terms of sheer volume of customers and employment of wage labor, small family shops had little resemblance with grands magasins in the nineteenth century.
Another sharp point of contrast between small shops and department stores can be found in the manner in which stocks and supplies were acquired for sale. Nineteenth-century shops tended to order their merchandise on credit through intermediaries and frequently used sample books from which customers could select items to be ordered. Markups were high and volumes were low. Department store merchandise ordering was on a much larger scale, so much so that they could frequently dictate production schedules. Selling directly to department stores for cash on delivery, manufacturers could save warehousing costs by timing production to coincide with delivery commitments. These savings could be passed on to consumers, who found a wide a array of goods in the department stores on sale at relatively inexpensive prices.
Department stores featured important innovations in retailing. Customers were encouraged to enter the building even if they had no intention of making a purchase; managers considered browsing to be perfectly acceptable. The bulk of the merchandise was displayed in such a way that consumers could directly inspect it for quality and workmanship. In the event of some dissatisfaction with a purchase, returns could be easily effected. Department store clerks were trained to distinguish themselves from the sales techniques of shopkeepers: customers were not to be needled into making a purchase, and clerks were to offer information about the products for sale without the concomitant pressure that took place in small shops. The social relations that accompanied shopping assumed a distinct form in these new retail outlets.
Still, it is important to note that not all of the department stores' most salient features were original innovations in retailing. Often laden with luxury fixtures and featuring elaborate decors, department stores were not the first to use fantasies about wealth and opulence to promote sales. Early modern shops had certainly moved in this direction prior to the nineteenth century, and glass and iron arcades, similar in form to train stations and covered markets, had become common in a number of cities well before the appearance of the department store. Shopping arcades typically housed small upscale boutiques and featured gas—later electric—lighting that lent an air of fantasy to enclosed shopping promenades. Department stores merely elaborated on the techniques that shopkeepers had earlier devised to add an exciting and dreamlike quality to the experience of material acquisition. And neither did the grands magasins invent the concept of department shopping itself. This, too, was an innovation traceable to small and medium-sized family shops. With guild control over commerce suppressed, new shops featuring fixed prices and expanded lines of merchandise began to appear as early as the late eighteenth century and became relatively common by the 1830s in Paris. Known as magasins de nouveautés, these commercial entities emphasized turnover and volume, an approach quite different from that of traditional shops. Department stores seized upon these innovations in retailing, implementing them on a grand scale and developing new managerial systems appropriate for their dimensions.
SHOPS AND SHOPKEEPERS IN THE AGE OF THE DEPARTMENT STORE
Social historians have been especially interested in the emergence of new forms of retailing such as department and chain stores because of the reactions of shopkeeping populations to this change. While many small nineteenth-century shop owners perceived department stores as a threat to their livelihood, the nature of the competition between these two forms of retailing is less clear. Many small shops thrived in the immediate environs of department stores, and sales of upscale items such as jewelry and haberdashery were quite slow to shift away from small family firms. The wealthiest shoppers usually disdained the environment of the department store, designed to enthrall the consuming masses, and preferred instead the exclusivity of traditional shops. In the face of department store competition some shops turned toward greater emphasis on luxury merchandise, some expanded their lines and adopted new retailing strategies, while others, especially ones dealing in increasingly mass-produced items such as gloves, umbrellas, and underwear, struggled to survive. The relevant point is that while the emergence of new forms of large-scale retailing posed a significant challenge, small shops were not necessarily reluctant to adapt to changing economic circumstances or even slow to embrace new commercial strategies.
In some respects the nineteenth century offered new opportunities for small family-owned retail shops, and in many places the expansion in their numbers outpaced population growth. Rapid urbanization made new space available for shops as well as increasing the pool of potential customers. Gradually rising wage levels after 1850 meant that working-class families had more to spend in the market economy, with small shops taking their share of consumer dollars along with department stores. And throughout northern Europe, municipal governments ceased constructing food markets to provision the urban population in the late nineteenth century. As existing urban market halls decayed and fell into disuse, neighborhood shops increased their share of the retail distribution of provisions. With food having become the fastest-growing sector of the nineteenth-century economy, small neighborhood shops stepped in where markets had once dominated, establishing themselves as crucial venues for the sale of provisions through the next century. So while both the early modern period and the nineteenth century featured considerable innovations in the retailing sector of the economy, small shops survived these changes as important elements of the retail distribution structure of European towns and cities.
One of the main reasons that historians study the relationship between shops and new larger-scale forms of retailing has been to explore the cause and nature of shopkeeper activism. Initial interpretations holding that shopkeepers embraced nationalist, conservative (and often anti-Semitic) ideologies in the late nineteenth century have given way to more nuanced and variegated assessments of their political ideologies and impulses. Likewise the presumption that shopkeepers, because they longed for a return to protectionist policies of the preindustrial economy, were everywhere at the heart of fascism's popular support has also come under increasing scrutiny. Small retail organizations and institutions in Barcelona, for example, strongly supported the Republican municipal government in the final days before the outbreak of rebellion, and were not drawn toward the fascist organic model of the state offered by the Falange. And in Italy and Germany, support for or acquiescence to fascist authority now appears to have been more a result of calculations of opportunism than blind obedience. The overgeneralized conservative proclivities of the European petite bourgeoisie had largely been predicated on a presumption of desperation and dupability. Crucial to the reevaluation of late-nineteenth- and twentieth-century shopkeeper political ideologies has been a growing recognition that small retail and artisanal enterprises were not necessarily doomed to extinction by the process of industrialization, and indeed possessed a considerable amount of historical agency. Thus, much of the twentieth-century work on the history of shops and stores seeks to explain how small and medium-sized firms have remained viable and have achieved, as the cases of Italy and Germany so clearly illustrate, an important degree of political power.
New large-scale forms of retailing continued their expansion in Europe over the course of the twentieth century. The pre–World War I years mainly featured the growth of chain stores, mail-order concerns, consumer cooperatives, and, of course, the further spread of department stores. The pace of change was not even, though. Consumer cooperatives, which were in many ways a creative reaction to the capitalization of commerce, came into existence virtually everywhere but took hold especially in England and the Scandinavian countries, where they came to make up a considerable part of the retail provisioning sector. Mail-order companies were particularly successful in Germany, quite possibly due to the economy of the postal service and the facility of its COD collection. Department and chain store growth prior to World War I was somewhat slower in central Europe than in England and France, though all major European capitals featured their own variants of the grand magasin on the eve of the Great War.
THE AGE OF THE SUPERMARKET
While the 1919–1945 period brought a disruption to the expansion of the retail sector, the postwar period featured a renewed surge in its growth as well as the appearance of a distinctively twentieth-century retail innovation: the self-service supermarket. The National Cash Register Company, an American firm, played an active role in promoting the adoption of self-service across western Europe in the 1950s and beyond. While many food shops that converted to self-service never increased their size, others grew into supermarkets and supermarket chains. The European country quickest to adopt American-style supermarkets was Switzerland. By 1955, the Swiss Migros chain, founded by Gottlieb Duttweiler, had in operation 150 self-service food stores, including seven large supermarkets. Consumer cooperatives in Britain and Scandinavia were also among the earliest and most eager converts to this new form of retailing, most likely because of the economies of scale and consequent reduction of prices that nearly always accompanied the shift.
Still, the spread of supermarkets in western Europe was distinct from that of the United States. Beginning somewhat later in the 1950s than in America, self-service supermarkets became established in European cities where space was at a tremendous premium and where individual establishments tended to be smaller and parking space much more limited than in their North American counterparts. Essentially dependent on the consumer use of the automobile to transport multiple bags of groceries from the point of retail to the point of residence, supermarkets could not expand to North American dimensions without large parking lots and widespread automobile ownership. Instead, though car ownership continued to increase through the postwar decades, supermarkets took their place in western Europe in the 1950s, 1960s, and up to the mid-1970s within a preexisting retail provisioning structure that featured a balance between neighborhood food shops, chain stores such as the British company Lipton's, consumer cooperatives, and, in parts of southern Europe, networks of public or private covered markets. Industry analysts in the immediate postwar period cited a number of other factors that slowed the spread of supermarkets in Europe. Among the impediments they perceived were inadequate refrigeration and packaging facilities, inadequate brand consciousness, and the (presumably negative) force of deeply seated commercial traditions.
European retailers were accustomed in the mid-twentieth century to much higher levels of competition than their American counterparts. In contrast to the 2½ food retailers per 1,000 population in the United States in the mid-1950s, Europe ranged from a low in France of 6 per 1,000 to a high of 26 per 1,000 in Belgium. In addition, American supermarket missionaries to Europe complained about the pervasive commercial organizations with local, regional, and national units that pursued policies of trade and territorial protection. As had been the case at the end of the nineteenth century, large-scale, heavily capitalized retail firms made significant inroads in the first three decades of the postwar period, though without eliminating more traditional forms of commerce such as small family-owned shops.
Though their density varies according to region, with southwestern Europe seemingly leading, small and medium-sized retail enterprises have fared well over much of the second half of the twentieth century. To an important degree this can be attributed to the ability of these firms to adapt to changes in both demand and production, but shop owners' effective political activism within their national polities also helped maintain their viability. Here the Italian and German cases are both noteworthy and most clearly outlined in the social history literature. German artisans in the post–World War II period adapted successfully to the industrial capitalist system, as evidenced by the fact that in 1994, 17.4 percent of the economically active population there was employed in independent Handwerk shops. Forty-seven percent of those firms employed five or fewer persons. Recent work has shown that the continued viability of Handwerk within the advanced industrial economy of Germany has in no small part been due to the connections between its institutions and the major political parties, to its maintenance of training programs and systems, its organization of purchasing and retailing cooperatives, its investment in research and development, and to its functioning as an effective organ of interest-group representation. Likewise in Italy, a national commercial organization established in 1946 and known as the Confcommercio has succeeded in defending the interests of firms engaged in retail commerce. Representing roughly one-seventh of the electorate, the postwar Italian retail sector mobilized to maintain commercial licensing policies because of the protection they offered to small and medium-sized enterprises. Especially in comparison with other regions of the world, the interests of small shops have tended to carry considerable weight within the electoral constituencies of several western European polities in the postwar period.
More recent trends have indicated a shift in the closing years of the century. Large-scale, heavily capitalized retailing enterprises have made new inroads since 1975. One indication of this has been the appearance of hypermarket stores in peripheral urban areas of western Europe. Larger than most Walmarts and K-Marts in the United States, the hypermarket combines provisions, clothing, housewares, furnishings, and heavy appliances on a heretofore unknown scale. A single enterprise under one roof, the hypermarket began draining consumer dollars away from small urban supermarkets and shops as early as the 1980s. In the 1990s western European cities also became the sites of large-scale, multistoried commercial malls. In some ways resembling their American counterparts, these retail centers often include hypermarket anchor stores and have posed a significant threat to older forms of neighborhood-based retail activity.
Since the revival of urban life in the eleventh century, privately owned retail firms have constituted a ubiquitous presence in western European cities. Though only some portion of the sector has undergone revolutionary changes in scale, organization, and potential for profitability, the political power wielded by the owners of retail concerns has remained considerable. Essential to the maintenance of urban populations, retail shops and stores continue to represent a crucial part of the economy and morphology of western European cities.
The history of shops and stores in eastern Europe has followed a somewhat different trajectory but has received remarkably little attention from social historians. While experiencing both urban growth and an expansion of retail commerce, eastern Europe did so somewhat later on account of the greater strength of rural aristocrats and the Tatar suzerainty in Russia, which extended into the fourteenth century. Urban shop owners never developed the political power in eastern Europe that they established in the west during the Middle Ages. Still, in the nineteenth century, most eastern European cities experienced growth in the number of shops and the establishment of new large-scale, highly capitalized stores, similar to their western counterparts. The communist period, quite obviously, represents a stark departure from western patterns, though political authorities did use both shops and stores to distribute what consumer goods the state-controlled system of production made available, rather than devising a new conceptual model for retail distribution. Scholars from the fields of political science, marketing, and to some degree urban planning are turning their attention to eastern European cities and raising important questions about the economic and political cultures that best foster commercial enterprises. Eastern Europe remains a fertile field for social historical inquiry into the nature of retail distribution.
See alsoCapitalism and Commercialization (in this volume);Fairs and Markets (in this volume);The Lower Middle Classes (volume 3);Gender and Work (volume 3);Consumerism (volume 5); and other articles in this section.
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