Since the Paris boutique Le Bon Marché was revamped to become the world’s first modern department store in the 1850s, these staples of consumerism and entertainment have changed tremendously over the ensuing decades. These vintage photos of old department stores track their evolution from their inception in the mid-19th century to their heyday in the mid-20th century, at which point they became popular for personalized service and salesmanship. These photos also manage to illustrate their devolution, however, as many elegant, older downtown stores closed up shop, making way for late-century, big-box department stores like Walmart and Kmart.
When looking at pictures of department stores then and now, the style, layout, and service of vintage department stores may appear to be a thing of the past; some cities, however, are determined to keep those traditions alive. In many parts of the world, though, these old-school downtown department stores have almost entirely been replaced by strip malls and chains. The architecture of the classic department store, intended to blend in with the city around it, is now replaced by the more practical warehouse model. Luckily, these photos help the golden age of department stores live on in our collective memory. Browse through this gallery to take a visual tour of these changing shops.