Selfridge’s, Oxford Street

Harry Gordon Selfridge, a workaholic at work 





By Megan McKinney


Workaholics need to work, and Harry Selfridge had run out  work in Chicago. Once he had outfitted Marshall Field’s with everything his fertile mind could imagine to lure customers into the store and keep them there.  It was no longer a challenge.


So he took his Marshall Field’s partnership money  and bought a fully staffed store down the street. It was a beautiful Louis Sullivan building—the loveliest façade on State Street, but the employees were not the quality Mr. Field had carefully assembled through the years. What worked at Field’s did not work down the street, so he sold the property to Carson Pirie Scott & Co. for whom it worked well indeed.

He puttered around in his massive Lake Geneva rose garden and maneuvered his yacht up and down the lake.  No challenges there.

Harry Selfridge was not yet 50 years old, with enough money to live well for the rest of his life—so why not try a little travel? Why not London? Rose knew it well, but it was a first trip for Harry. So, he began by checking out the London shopping.

London was not without stores, some of the world’s great ones, but they were scattered, and there was not a single department store among the Oxford Street shops.  No department stores on the Oxford Street stretch? Suddenly, Harry was energized.

He also saw that London shoppers visited a store to buy what they needed and then left the premises. Bingo! London would the place where employing the Selfridge come-in-and-stay-long techniques would make a difference. A store designed from the ground up by Harry Selfridge would make a big difference.

This was Oxford Street before Selfridge’s.

This was Oxford Street during construction of Selfridge’s.

And this was Oxford Street following the completion of Selfridge’s

These were the smartly dressed Londoners stretching around the block to get into the Selfridge & Co on March 15, 1909. By the end of the day, 90,000 had done so.


Author Photo: Robert F. Carl