Department stores have changed tremendously over the decades, since Le Bon Marché in Paris was revamped in the 1850s to become the world's first modern department store. These vintage photos of old department stores track their evolution to their heyday in the mid-20th century, when they were known for personalized service and salesmanship. But they also show their devolution, as many elegant old downtown stores closed up shop, making way for late-century, big-box department stores like Walmart and Kmart.
Looking at pictures of department stores then and now, it's tempting to think the style, layout, and service of vintage department stores are a thing of the past. Some cities are determined to keep those traditions alive, but in many parts of the world, these old-school downtown department stores have almost entirely been replaced by strip malls and chains. The architecture of the classic department store, intended to blend in with the city around it, is now replaced by the more practical warehouse model. Luckily, these photos help the golden age of department stores live on. Browse through this gallery to take a visual tour of these changing shops.