The Economics of Shopping: Harrods and Gath y Chaves in Buenos Aires, 1883–1955

Friday, January 8, 2016: 9:10 AM
International Ballroom B (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Donna Guy, University of Ohio
In the late 19th century, Argentina became known in England and the continent of Europe as a rich country.  “To be rich as an Argentine” summed up this view and prompted the British owners of Harrods in London to open what became their only branch store in the world in the capital city of Buenos Aires.  At the same time another Argentine department store founded by an Englishman and an Argentine from Santiago del Estero, Gath y Chaves, unveiled their new building devoted to shopping and modeled after the most famous French store, Le Bon Marché.  Founded in 1883, Gath y Chaves anchored one end of the fashionable Florida Street, while Harrods had a commanding presence at the tonier end of Florida, near the new and sumptuous Plaza Hotel.

              What these monuments to consumption did not show, however, was the problematic market confronted by the owners of these stores, and the ways that foreign investors reacted to the reality that Argentines were only as rich as the export market and wars allowed. Based upon annual reports and economic articles published in Argentine newspapers,  this paper explores the tricky market and the unwillingness of foreign investors to expand