Stobart, J. (2010) Selling spaces: grocers' shops in eighteenth-century England. Panel Presentation presented to: British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (BSECS) Annual Conference, Oxford, 5-7 January 2010.
Much has been written in recent years about the transformative impact on eighteenth-century society of a range of ‘exotic’ consumables; most notably tea, coffee, sugar and tobacco. Attention has focused on the practices, rituals and so-called cultural contexts through which these goods were consumed, and on the ways in which they encouraged a shift in domestic material culture. We know much less about the retailers who supplied these goods to apparently avid consumers: who were they, what did they sell, and how did they present and sell these goods to customers? This paper seeks to address this lacuna by exploring the grocers shop as a space of consumption. I am interested firstly in the production of retail space: how was the shop structured and how were goods displayed to (potential) customers? Building on this, I examine the reasons for the apparent growth in emphasis on the display of wares – even of what may seem to be visually unremarkable commodities. Finally, I turn to the ways in which shopkeeper, customer and goods came together at the moment of purchase, examining the various modes of selling employed by grocers, and reflecting on the ways in which these related to the spatiality of the shop.