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My Books, etc.

The World of Department Stores

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Service and Style: How the American Department Store Fashioned the Middle Class

St. Martin's Press, 2006. 352 pages, well illustrated.
ca. 1915 poster stamp

Once, downtown department stores were the heart and soul of America’s pulsing Broadways and Main Streets. With names such as City of Paris, Penn Traffic, The Maze, Maison Blanche, or The Popular, they suggested spheres far beyond mundane shopping. Nicknames reflected the affection customers felt for their favorites, whether Woodie’s, Wanny’s, Stek’s, O.T.’s, Herp’s, or Bam’s.

The history of downtown department stores is as fascinating as their names and as diverse as their merchandise. Their stories encompass many themes: the rise of decorative design, new career paths for women, the growth of consumerism, and the technological ingenuity of escalators and pneumatic tubes. Just as the big stores made up their own small universes, their stories are microcosmic narratives of American culture and society.

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Tea at the Blue Lantern Inn: A Social History of the Tea Room Craze in America

St. Martin's Press, 2002. 240 pages, well illustrated. The Gypsy Tea Kettle, Polly's Cheerio Tea Room, The Mad Hatter, and The Blue Lantern Inn (there were at least three with this name) are just a few of the many tea rooms of the early 20th century. Most were owned and operated by women and most of the patrons were women too. By the 1920s, the country was almost swamped with tea rooms. Sparked by National Prohibition, the suffragist movement, and the rise of the automobile, tea rooms forever changed the way America eats out, and laid the groundwork for the modern small restaurant and coffee shop.

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"Quick Lunch"

Appears in Gastronomica, Winter 2004, pp. 69-73. Describes the simple fare and basic amenities found in America's first chain restaurants, dubbed variously quick lunches, dairy lunches, or lunch rooms. Cereal with milk was one of their top sellers. Unlike in our 20th century fast-food places, hamburgers were not often served.

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"Domesticating the Restaurant"

Chapter in From Betty Crocker to Feminist Food Studies, edited by A. Avakian and B. Haber, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2005. When women entered the restaurant business in the 20th century, they brought with them new kinds of dishes such as salads, stuffed tomatoes, and layer cakes, as well as decor featuring plate rails, crockery collections, and hand-sewn curtains. They also championed a higher level of sanitation, measured against the standards of the middle-class home.

For more about this article and about women and restaurants, click here.