De Bijenkorf’s Beginnings
Prior to WWI, department stores in smaller communities were oriented toward female shoppers. Except for the handful who worked outside the home (teachers, secretaries, nurses, primarily) most were homemakers and mothers whose purchasing needs were predictable: fresh food, in an era before predictable refrigeration; and ready-made clothing or, more likely, the fabric, notions, and patterns to build from scratch or to alter the hand-me-downs. Shopping was fit somewhere into the regular rhythm of the week (laundry, floors, windows, defrosting the fridge, tending the garden). For farm families, shopping trips were usually coordinated with dad’s visit to the hardware, implement dealer, and courthouse. These would have been de Bijenkorf’s target audience.
The family business began simply, selling yard goods, patterns, and notions (i.e., buttons, thread, ribbon and lace trimming) which, for a town of Agincourt’s age and size would have fit comfortably in a twenty-five-foot storefront. It might have looked something like this:
Even a four-block commercial zone along Broad Street — five, if you count the Squares — would have developed clusters of like businesses: banking, business, fraternal organizations, and barbers; meat markets, greengrocers, bakers, and confectioners; restaurants, cafés, and entertainment (of the socially acceptable sort); and a scattering of furniture (who were often the morticians, as well), decorative arts, books and stationers. Clothiers were clearly separated by gender: haberdashers (men) and dress shops for the ladies. Hats were often a separate enterprise, while jewelers dealt in the sale and maintenance of time pieces as much as they did precious metals and gems. In such a world, de Bijenkorf might have begun at the southern, less glamorous end of Broad Street, at #3 or #5, a mid-block storefront close enough to the Squares for some of that prestige to rub off. And from that modest start, they could have expanded their offerings into numbers 1, 3 and 5 by 1920, ready to blend three late Victorian stores into one.