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From Main Street to MallFrom Main Street to Mall

The Rise and Fall of the American Department Store

Vicki Howard

Narrated by Beth Richmond

Available from Audible

Book published by University of Pennsylvania Press

The geography of American retail has changed dramatically since the first luxurious department stores sprang up in nineteenth-century cities. Introducing light, color, and music to dry-goods emporia, these "palaces of consumption" transformed mere trade into occasions for pleasure and spectacle. Through the early twentieth century, department stores remained centers of social activity in local communities. But after World War II, suburban growth and the ubiquity of automobiles shifted the seat of economic prosperity to malls and shopping centers. The subsequent rise of discount big-box stores and electronic shopping accelerated the pace at which local department stores were shuttered or absorbed by national chains. But as the outpouring of nostalgia for lost downtown stores and historic shopping districts would indicate, these vibrant social institutions were intimately connected to American political, cultural, and economic identities.

The first national study of the department store industry, From Main Street to Mall traces the changing economic and political contexts that transformed the American shopping experience in the twentieth century. With careful attention to small-town stores as well as glamorous landmarks such as Marshall Field's in Chicago and Wanamaker's in Philadelphia, historian Vicki Howard offers a comprehensive account of the uneven trajectory that brought about the loss of locally identified department store firms and the rise of national chains like Macy's and J. C. Penney. She draws on a wealth of primary source evidence to demonstrate how the decisions of consumers, government policy makers, and department store industry leaders culminated in today's Wal-Mart world. Richly illustrated with archival photographs of the nation's beloved downtown business centers, From Main Street to Mall shows that department stores were more than just places to shop.

Vicki Howard is Associate Professor of History at Hartwick College. She is author of Brides, Inc.: American Weddings and the Business of Tradition and editor of the journal History of Retailing and Consumption.

Beth Richmond (narrator) has narrated dozens of audiobooks for major companies.


From Main Street to Mall offers sharp analysis of American retailing from a new vantage point, advancing our understanding of the department store beyond Macy's and Marshall Field's. Historians of consumer culture have always known of smaller stores in smaller cities, but nobody paid attention to them until Vicki Howard. A significant contribution.”

—Susan Strasser, author of Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market

“Combining deep historical research and vivid description, Vicki Howard lucidly explains how, when, and why the department store came to dominate American commercial culture and how the democratization of consumption, changing public policy, and the forces of globalization contributed to its transformation and demise. A must-read for researchers of American consumer culture and for anyone who loves to shop.”

—Regina Lee Blaszczyk, author of The Color Revolution

All titles are published by:
University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks