The arrival of discount department stores, on-line shopping services, specialty shops and warehouse clubs over the last fifty years had a pronounced impact on retail activity. An entire new generation of shoppers has never experienced the excitement of downtown department stores. This is unfortunate. For over 150 years they ruled. They provided quality merchandise at affordable prices all in a service-oriented environment. Cleveland, Ohio epitomized the fast growing city of the 19th and 20th centuries where this kind of retailing prospered.
This writing will focus on Cleveland’s eight major downtown department stores. Starting with the development of ready-made clothing, at the outset of the Industrial Revolution, it will trace the evolution of the department store as seen through these specific retailers. Using them as a barometer of local change affords a human aspect to what might otherwise be construed as impervious economic forces at work. This writing will also emphasize economic and social changes wrought by Baby Boomers and how they impacted traditional stores.
Retail success never lasts forever. The ability of local stores to meet the challenges of their day insured their success then. Their inability later-on to fulfill the needs of a changing customer-base led to their demise. Learning from their successes and failures may assist modern retailers as they attempt to remain at the top of their game during our own highly mobile age.