By Sarah Elvins
“Sales and Celebrations enriches and complicates the picture of consumer culture… and makes a persuasive argument for the persistent power of the local.”
Liette Gidlow, author of The Big Vote: Gender, Consumer Culture, and the Politics of Exclusion, 1890s–1920s
“In vivid prose, the author evokes the glamour of early department stores in Buffalo and Rochester whose innovative lighting and communication systems made them models of modernity, while marketing strategies remained finely attuned to the needs of the local community.”
Between the two world wars, the retail world experienced tremendous changes. New forms of competition, expanded networks of communication and transportation, and the proliferation of manufactured goods posed challenges to department store and small shopkeeper alike.
In western New York, and in Buffalo and Rochester in particular, retailers were a crucial part of urban life, acting as cultural brokers and civic leaders. They were also cultivators of area pride. Even as they adopted the latest merchandising techniques or stocked the newest items, merchants emphasized their local roots and their ability to put a local spin on national trends and innovations. Regional identity became a powerful selling tool not only during the prosperity of the 1920s but also through the economic crisis of the Great Depression.
Sales and Celebrations explains how local traditions and institutions affected the evolution of American consumer culture. It expands our understanding of American consumerism, demonstrating that local particularities and loyalties could often coexist with, and occasionally challenge, the spread of mass consumption. In her award-winning study, Professor Sarah Elvins provides new insight into the relationship between America’s largest metropolises and its smaller centers. Retailers in Buffalo and Rochester did not simply imitate the practices of their counterparts in Manhattan and Chicago; they highlighted their unique ability to serve the wants and needs of their particular markets.
By drawing attention to this persistent power of the local, Sales and Celebrations illuminates a neglected aspect of the story of American culture in the interwar period.
Sarah Elvins lives in Winnipeg, where she is an assistant professor in American history at the University of Manitoba. More info →
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