Penny retailers and merchant princes

Authored by: Susan Spellman

The Routledge Companion to the History of Retailing

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138675087
eBook ISBN: 9781315560854
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, large-scale retail enterprises emerged in both the US and Europe in what many historians labelled a “retail revolution”. Names such as Alexander T. Stewart, H. Gordon Selfridge, Rowland H. Macy and Marshall Field adorned buildings and became part of the consumer lexicon. Historians have often credited the rise of “big business” and its corresponding merchant princes for prompting the “modern” means and methods by which these enterprises flourished, largely to the exclusion of the thousands of penny retailers whose methods have been typified as “traditional” or backward. The persistence of these small businesses, however, has challenged historians in the last twenty years or so to reconceptualise modern business along broader lines that includes not only organisational systems and selling methods, but also technology adoption, merchandising, distribution and contributions to local as well as national economies. Collectively, they make clear that there was no well-defined break between the so-called “traditional” methods of small retailers and those of their large-scale counterparts.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.