Department stores were at one time the centerpieces of downtown shopping areas in major cities of the United States. They later proliferated in suburban areas. During the last few decades of the twentieth century, however, however, many department stores failed because of changing economic conditions. While a few major department stores remain, these have undergone significant changes as they strive to compete with discount stores and specialty retailers.
The classic department store in American culture was large, often with two or more floors, with separate departments for each type of item, each with a separate cashier. Most had a men’s clothing department, several departments for women’s clothing, departments for children’s clothing, books and records, furniture, and many other items, such as toys. The wealth of offerings, the variety based on the different departments, made the department store a cultural icon, a place to please the entire family. Shopping malls, with their many stores, now function in the same way.
Today, large stores, such as those multi-floor stores that act as the “anchors” at shopping malls, are called “department stores” even though some only sell clothing and cosmetics, because of their size and because they still have different departments: men’s, misses, juniors, intimate apparel, shoes, bridal, children, and so forth. Some of the major chains include Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Macy’s, JC Penney, Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillard’s, Sears, Bloomingdales, Belk, and Lord & Taylor. Each store has a different character, catering to a fairly well defined economic and social clientele. Some specialize in selling clothing under their own brand names, others in selling well-known high fashion brands, others in a combination of the two.
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