Archive for December 15th, 2009

Worshipping at the ‘cathedral of modern commerce’: going shopping in the nineteenth century

15 December 2009

Contributed by Niamh Cullen

As Christmas approaches and Grafton Street gets more and more crowded each Saturday and Sunday, it seems like a good time to examine the history of one of our most popular modern pastimes: shopping.  It is only in more recent decades that most people have enough disposable income to shop for pleasure rather than necessity.  However, Grafton Street was already becoming the playground of the rich and fashionable in the nineteenth century when two new department stores opened their doors there: Switzers in 1838 and Brown Thomas in 1849. Switzers began as a fairly modest enterprise, but had more than doubled its size by 1860, occupying much of the site of the present-day Brown Thomas. John Switzer soon had a rival on the opposite side of the street when Hugh Brown and James Thomas opened their fashionable premises in 1849. By the 1850s, Brown Thomas was fast becoming Dublin’s most fashionable shopping destination.

However, it was in Paris that the department store as a ‘cathedral of modern commerce’ as Emile Zola described it, was born. Read More