It would be difficult to visit Paris and not visit Les Grands Magasins.
I was browsing Paris Forever and was smitten with the background story on Emil Zola. Consumed with the development and innovation of the first big department stores like Le Bon Marche of the Second Empire, Zola built a novel around them, Au Bonheur des Dames/The Ladies Paradise.
The novel is focused on Denise, an orphaned, poor, young country girl who moves to the big city, becomes a shop assistant in the department store, and ultimately wins the heart of the owner of the store bla bla bla.
There are many intriguing back stories within this poor girl-meets-rich boy tale that reveal much about the early days of the Second Empire, when Baron Haussmann was changing the face of Paris.
Le Bon Marche became the model of all future department stores as we know them. They offered workers some benefits like free lunches (but they had to sit at the same spot daily). The women could lose their jobs instantly in hard times and often had to take to the streets till they were rehired.
Retail trade changed dramatically with the coming of big emporiums.
The vast variety of products offered all in one place was a huge asset.
Prices were fixed unlike previously in the small boutiques.
Illustrated catalogs were provided so shoppers could plan and dream...
Everything was provided to make women comfortable and happy to keep them inside the store including the first ladies tea salons.
Mirroring Zola's imagined tale of love in a department store, real-life Ernest Cognacq, while working at Le Bon Marche married dress assistant Louise Jay. Together they went off to create La Samaritaine. In the Marais, Musee Cognacq-Jay is the result of their accumulated riches. Department stores Printemps(founded in 1865, by Jules Jaluzot and Jean-Alfred Duclos) and Galeries Lafayette(founded in 1893, two cousins, Théophile Bader and Alphonse Kahn) were soon to follow along with Macy's, Harrod's.
|Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames will fill you in on the inner workings behind the doors of the grand magasine you have thrown money at. He touches on many social issues of the time: the rise of a consumer culture and the changing role of women. Altogether a fascinating read, especially the detailed historical introduction.|