After the closing down of South Africa’s last traditional department store, the 159 year old Stuttafords, I have to wonder why it is that we can no longer support this concept.  I grew up with Ansteys, John Orrs, Payne Brothers, The Hub (Durban’s version of H&M), The Belfast, Garlicks, and of course, Stuttafords.  One by one they closed their doors, most long before the current recession.  The one stop shopping destination for everything from stationery, to haberdashery and fabrics, to homeware and clothing, to delicious toasted sandwiches, apple pie and milkshakes, is no more.

Shopping the old fashioned way

I have memories of shoe shopping with my mother.  You seated yourself in the shoe department and told the sales assistant what you were looking for.  He or she then brought a pile of boxes of shoes you may like based on your description.  Many of these styles you had never seen until the boxes were opened in front of you.  After a yay or nay, he/she would physically put your foot in the chosen shoes.  These stools were standard in every shoe store for that purpose. They would often measure your foot with this measuring device to determine your size and fitting.  Shoes actually ALL came in half sizes and in different widths as well.


Shopping abroad

When travelling to cities like London and New York I make a point of visiting some of their iconic department stores.  My main area of interest is naturally the handbag departments, and they are HUGE.  In Selfridge’s case 5,500 square metres.  They are always on the ground floor at the entrances in prime position.  I take the opportunity to get up close to all the well known brands and study how they are made and any finishing touches I can emulate at Flagship.  I also check their quality against ours and I have not been disappointed yet, in fact I come away rather self-satisfied.  My thorough inspection makes the sales assistants very attentive assuming they have a keen buyer.  I have to explain what I am doing and I haven’t been thrown out yet.


Of course the most covetable and unique handbags are not sold in department stores, but after visiting a couple I feel it is possible to grade them dependent on the brands they do stock.

At some like John Lewis, Macy’s or to a lesser extent Bloomingdales, you only find the really mass produced mediocre brands like Michael Kors, Radley, Kate Spade or Coach.  (Bloomingdales seems to stock some of the lesser known newer brands which is commendable).

While  at others for example, Selfridges, Bergdorf Goodman or obviously Harrods, you will find the (in my opinion) superior and more pricey brands including Chloe, Fendi, Loewe, Marni, The Row, Moynat Paris, Valextra etc.

At one store, on a previous visit, Louis Vuitton had a rope across their section, only allowing a few people in at a time – I mean really, who could be bothered to queue for what must be the world’s most readily faked handbag brand.

Shopping – Pleasure or ordeal.

To sum up – I love the experience of browsing in a shop and if it’s a luxury shop I get a seriously warm and fuzzy feeling.  All my senses are on alert, they always smell wonderful, and have such a tranquil and serene vibe.  Even if not buying, being able to admire and touch exquisite products is a treat.

Do you miss the department stores, what gives you the most shopping pleasure?

Does online shopping satisfy your retail therapy needs?