Research: Windows of the Department Store


My goal of research this far has been to obtain some background information about retail shopping in Lancaster, Pa, the role of windows in the success of department stores, and most specifically about the windows of the Watt & Shand Department Store.

This week I will make a trip downtown to the historical society to look at photos of the Watt & Shand building over time and analyze the window displays. I will also interpret the effectiveness of the windows in this building specifically.


Source:  Lancaster Historical Society. Lancaster at Work: Business in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. Lancaster: Lancaster County Historical Society, 2006. Print.

Lancaster’s retail history began with dry goods stores. These were the first stores with bulk merchandising of textiles, clothes, food and hardware. These general stores were the main shopping offerings of the 19th century.

The Watt & Shand department store became the dominant department store at the turn of the century. It was founded by Peter Watt, Gilbert Thompson, and James Shand in 1879 who bought stock and building for the store located at 20-22 East King Street. This was deemed the New York Store and its business was essential t0 serving the fashion needs of Lancaster.

One year after opening, the store moved to 8-10 East King Street and began buying out neighboring businesses. It bought out the Gerhart Clothing Store in 1855 and the Prangley Building on the corner of Penn Square in 1895. C. Emlen Urban was hired to replace the Prangley Building with a four story structure that now serves as the Mariott downtown. By 1970 they had acquired the Appel and Weber Jewelery store and the local Hager’s.

Watt & Shand was a department store that supplied men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, furs, household items and a soda fountain. Its windows were tastefully decorated and there were always sales promotions. It’s enticing atmosphere made it a place not only for retail needs, but for entertainment.

The store was bought in 1992 by the Bon-Ton chain department store. It’s presence remained at the Park City Center, or mall, but the downtown store closed in 1995. This marked the end of Lacaster’s downtown shopping landmark.

Below is a 1938 photograph of the Watt & Shand Department Store designed by C. Emlen Urban.


source: Clausen, Meredith L. “Shopping Centers.” Encyclopedia of Architecture Design, Engineering and Construction. Vol. 4. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1989. Print.

Department stores were part of the rise of shopping center’s in the 1950’s and were evolving at the turn of the century. Prior to their development, however, there was a historical progression of shopping style.

The shopping center and department store were preceded by early trade in the city. The downtown market place was a staple communal space that remained prominent until the twentieth century. The Greek agora, was a center of communal and open shops in classical Greek cities. It was a very informal public plaza where trade and travel could occur easily. Next came the Roman forum, where small specialty shops were grouped into market buildings opened to the street.

In the middle ages of Europe, formalized merchandising declined and merchants and seasonal fairs became the main source of buying goods. As cities began to increase in size in the seventeenth century, however, permanent stores and shops resurfaced. These stores faced the street and were on the ground floor of residential and commercial buildings. The nineteenth century gave rise to the production of glass which was essential for the convenience of shopping in bad weather and for the increasingly popular window shopping.

As the industrial revolution drove the rise of large cities, mass produced products, the railroad, and mass transportation, the standard of living increased in addition to the increase in population. This called for a change in retail strategy. In the 1860’s the modern department store developed and remained concentrated in the core of the city.



source:  Franklin and Marshall College. Retail windows in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A Report of The Research Committee of the Window Display Advertising Association . Lancaster, PA: New York, Association of National Adverisers, 1928. Print.

Hoping to find specific insight on the organization of the retail windows of Lancaster, I found a study on the windows of business in Lancaster. Unfortunately there were no specific stores named, but the study did show the effectiveness of attractive, changing, and clean window displays.

Some background of Lancaster in the twentieth century noted that Lancaster was a small city of about 60,000 people. It was a trading center and an essential manufacturing city. The goal of the project was to report the appearance of store windows. The class of the store, the nature of the business, the state of the windows, and the presence of national advertising was noted.

Below is an example of the questionnaire that was filled out by a member of the store’s management. 

The study found that higher class stores believed that showing national window display material increased sales, and these national advertisements were used where they would be the most effective. Shops of a better class were found to have more general display material. Many of the windows were found to be clean, but not all were attractive due to the lack of knowledge of effective window display. The study also found that window displays were appreciated and used and thought to act as a selling ad.




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