06 January 2009

Department Store Culture 百貨公司文化

Back in my school days in Philadelphia, The Wanamaker’s, founded by prominent merchant and politician John Wanamaker in 1902, was among my favorite places to hang out in the downtown area. Every Christmas, the department store delighted children and adults alike with an in-store light show while holiday tunes played beautifully on the world’s largest operational pipe organ housed inside a majestic, seven-story high courtyard. Unfortunately for Philadelphians, as the department store industry waned, the iconic retailer eventually succumbed to changing times and in 1997, the century-old Wanamaker’s name was taken down from one of the city’s most prominent landmarks.

Once a social institution, department stores around the world are facing extinction. The rise of the “big-box store” that specializes in a single category of merchandise, such as office supplies, toys, footwear and sporting goods, has forever altered our shopping habits and made it impossible for department stores to compete in either price or selection. Trying to be all things to all people, these retail dinosaurs end up pleasing nobody. Here in Hong Kong, one department store after another went out of business at the turn of the new millennium, each time leaving an ocular void in the neighborhood like the carcass of a sunken ocean-liner.

Corporate Darwinism aside, the Japanese department store culture has long been an integral part of Hong Kong’s history. Back when the British colony was still coming of age, Daimaru (大丸) opened a store on Great George Street in Causeway Bay in 1960...


Read the rest of this article in HONG KONG State of Mind, published by Blacksmith Books, available at major bookstores in in Hong Kong, on Amazon and at Blacksmith Books.


  1. Hi Jason

    Glad to talk to you here.

    For the sake of completeness, you may also mention the two "Chinese National Goods Department Stores" in CWB for the following reasons:-

    1. They were good places to buy Double Happiness or Friendship table tennis rackets.

    2. They used to be excellent air conditioned passages for those who wanted to walk from Percival St. to Mitsukoshi, or from Matsuzakaya to Victoria Park.

    3. While many people around us might have never bought anything from these stores, they survived till the very last minutes!

  2. Hi McRic,

    Funny you should mention Chinese Products Co. (中國國貨公司)! Indeed I thought about mentioning it -- the department store was one of my favorite as a child. I used to buy exotic stamps and ping pong paddles there.

    The store didn't make it to the entry mainly because there isn't a whole lot of information about it out there. But I will do more research and may very well write an article about it in the future. Thanks for your suggestion!


  3. I miss Yaohan (八佰伴) also, it was located at Shatin. I watched firework when it was opened, very happy as I could watch firework that no need to wait for the Lunar New Year.

  4. Ha ha, it's good to see you here, Viola. Keep reading! -Jason

  5. call me snobs but i still think the japanese counterparts are more attractive. but then again, hk dept culture doesn't have the same level of service attitude, @ least in my experience.

  6. Great writing Jason. I make it a habit to spend an hour or two at the Mitsukoshi in Ginza post-work whenever I'm there for business. The energy of trenchcoat-clad businessmen, office ladies, obaasans is worth the after office rush hour on the JR.