Wannamaker’s Temple: Retail as Religion

The Wall Street Journal: The John Wanamaker Department Store was one of America’s first great temples of consumption … In “Wanamaker’s Temple,” Nicole C. Kirk argues that Wanamaker’s was more than a successful business enterprise, it was also a successful ministry. She notes that John Wanamaker, a Presbyterian, was as committed to evangelism and the social gospel as he was to selling silks and satins. As she writes: “Wanamaker saw his retail empire not as separate from religion but as an instrument of it, as a means for achieving moral reform in business, in the city, and in individuals’ lives.”

“Born into a working-class South Philadelphia family in 1838, Wanamaker began his career as a clerk in a men’s clothing store owned by a friend of his grandfather’s. By accident, he walked into a prayer meeting and heard a hat maker explaining that religion was part of his trade. Wanamaker was soon swept up in the Businessmen’s Revival, a Protestant prayer movement.”

?The store was filled with innovations: electric arc lamps, elevators, pneumatic tubes to move money and receipts. And it was infused with Wanamaker’s religiosity. In full-age newspaper ads, six days a week, he assured potential customers of his high-quality merchandise, his honest treatment of customers and his fairness to employees. ‘It was more than image making, although it was that as well,’ Ms. Kirk writes. ‘Wanamaker saw it as a part of his business mission—to make business a Christian enterprise and profitable’.”

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