The purpose of this paper is to synthesize the papers written for this special issue, to suggest some themes and problems emerging from recent retail history, and to bring together work from a variety of subfields.
The essay surveys recent themes in retail history, using the contents of the special issue as a point of departure. It relies on secondary sources.
The articles in this issue highlight the importance of power relations and more formal political economy and government policy to retail firms. They also emphasize the importance of nearby institutions and populations to retailers. Taken as a whole, the pieces speak to recent interest among business historians in the social contexts and contingencies that shape firms and also in the history of failure, draw their attention to the importance of “the local” in business generally, and point to the possibilities of more work on very small firms, early American and non‐US (or globally framed US) retail and questions of women and gender. This work is part of a resurgence of interest by historians of all stripes in retail and its history; although reading across sub‐disciplinary lines can be challenging, the essay concludes by encouraging scholars of retail to do so.
This essay should encourage work in understudied fields and particularly encourage broad reading among retail historians.
The essay introduces readers to literature they may not have encountered and articulates themes and questions emerging from new scholarship on retail.
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