Australia has only a comparatively short retailing history, so it perhaps comes as a surprise to discover that one of our commercial entities is more than 175 years old – and still trades today.
This is the famous David Jones, a department store that opened in Sydney, at the corner of George and Barrack Streets, on 24 May 1838, only 50 years after the founding of the colony.
Not only is David Jones the oldest department store in Australia but reputedly the oldest in the world to be still trading under its original name.
Begun by a Welsh merchant, Mr. David Jones, it started with a mission to sell only the “best and most exclusive goods”, and this, combined with a determination to provide high quality store service, saw the brand prosper.
The store was rebuilt and modernised in 1887, featuring the first hydraulic lift in Sydney. After continuing to grow over the next four decades the company built a stylish and much larger new store in Elizabeth Street and following the opening in 1927 this became the pre-eminent department store in Sydney for many years.
The company soldiered on during the Second World War, contributing to the national effort by converting part of the George Street Store into a soldiers club.
After the War David Jones became a leader in the promotion of women’s clothing, hosting exotic fashion parades and stocking many iconic brands. Two of the best – the French designers Pierre Balmain and Christian Dior, hosted fabulous displays in the late 1940’s.
During the next decade the increasingly successful company expanded around Australia creating a national retail brand that today involves 36 stores.
In 2013 David Jones celebrated its 175th Anniversary, a remarkable milestone unrivalled by any other department store in Australia. The advertising tag used by the company had achieved considerable justification – “There’s no other store like David Jones”.
Image: A view of electric trams on George Street, David Jones corner in Sydney circa 1900, from the Powerhouse Museum Collection.