1935 - Chain Store

By the 1930s the idea of the chain store or multiple - a group of shops selling similar goods under a common ownership and identity- was well established. Some built shops in an excitingly modernistic style of chrome and glass, as did many independent retailers. The pioneer multiple, though, was the Co-operative movement, founded in 1844. Concentrating initially on groceries, this was the first business to operate a branch system, and to integrate wholesale and retail functions. Later the Co-op even owned its own factories, producing everything from foodstuffs to furniture. The multiples use a central supplysystem for goods, concentrating on popular standard lines that sell well. By placing big orders with their suppliers, they can claim generous discounts and pass the savings on to customers. The big chains are popular with many people but do we always want to have virtually identical shops in every town?

Brighter Homes Plate glass - invented as long ago as 1827 - was the dominant feature of many shop fronts, especially after 1930, when a non-reflective kind became available. Using a steel or ferroconcrete framework gave great structural strength to the building - indeed Self ridges department store (1908) had been one of the first steel-framed buildings in Britain - and this meant that windows could occupy the entire frontage. This in turn called for great skill on the part of the 'window dresser' in presenting an attractive and tempting display of the goods on sale to encourage window-shoppers to step inside. Details in chrome and vitriolite (a kind of coloured glass) give emphasis to the sharp, clean lines of this Birmingham shop. By the 1930s factories were mass-producing interior and exterior shop fittings to standard designs which could be assembled on site. On the typical High Street, the aggressive neon-lit modernity of such facades formed a stark contrast with the elaboration of more traditional, individually made shop fronts, which began to look increasingly drab and old-fashioned. The large multiples, though anxious to appear up to date, tended towards a softer-edged version of the new, starkly geometrical styles. Some smaller shops, however, allowed their shopfitters unfettered freedom to express themselves in the language of pure modernism or Art Deco. In the immediate post-war years designs became even simpler, so the shop front became almost invisible, a mere frame for the display of goods on sale. Apart from the shop name on the fascia, all the attention of the passer-by was meant to be focused on the goods on display.

1923 - Selling Space

1967 - Quality Street