Story: Department stores and shopping malls

With elegant window displays, expansive tearooms, beauty salons, fashion parades and Christmas extravaganzas, department stores made shopping fun. These multi-storeyed ‘cathedrals of consumption’ developed in the later 19th century. Shopping malls have largely taken their place.

Story by Helen Laurenson
Main image: DIC sign being removed, Palmerston North, 1989

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Department stores

Department stores, which developed in the later 19th century, were large shops in multi-storeyed buildings, usually in the city centre. They sold a wide range of goods, organised into different departments. Most had large tearooms, and some also included beauty salons and barbers.

Glamorous window displays attracted customers. Some stores had children’s playgrounds and ran Christmas parades and other events. Their end-of-season sales drew huge crowds.

Stores in New Zealand

New Zealand’s first department stores grew out of drapery shops (which sold clothing and fabrics). Many were started by women, or were family businesses. They imported goods, mostly from Britain.

As people moved to the suburbs and bought cars, central-city department stores became less popular. Malls had opened, and many people shopped there instead. Department stores came to be seen as old-fashioned, and many closed.

In the 2000s most major centres still had one remaining department store. They included Smith & Caughey in Auckland, Kirkcaldie & Stains in Wellington, Ballantynes in Christchurch and Arthur Barnett’s in Dunedin, as well as the Farmers chain.


The first shopping malls were built in the 1950s. Some were shopping streets closed to traffic – but most were large buildings full of shops, usually centred on one big supermarket or store. Most malls were in suburban areas, and had large car parks. As well as shops, they often had food courts and cinemas, and were decorated with plants and fountains.

In many ways malls have replaced department stores. Like stores, malls often hold special events such as music and parades, and Santa is there at Christmas.

Some people have criticised malls for all having the same retailers – but they are a popular place to shop, meet friends and eat.

How to cite this page:

Helen Laurenson, 'Department stores and shopping malls', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 6 February 2023)

Story by Helen Laurenson, published 11 Mar 2010