In 1977, Richard Sennett published The Fall of Public Man. The urban sociologist explained in its pages how the departments stores would cause the demise of the bustle in city centres around the world. Without it the communitarian life would slowly disappear. Given the characteristic individualism of today’s society this book is worth giving a second read.

Our public-self gets cut off from the stores where the interaction with the shop assistant is minimized. You pick everything you could ever need by yourself. With all products equipped with price tags, no personal communication is needed.

When Vroom & Dreesman –the well-known V&D- decided in 1930 to establish in Haarlem, The Netherlands, they didn’t expect what actually happened. The department store chain faced the opposition of a little building whose proprietors refused to move away no matter how generous their offer would be. They never accepted the bid while their neighbours did. As a result, the architect Jan Kuijt had to take in consideration that only building left.

The impressive V&D building with a little building attached. Photo © Johan Bakker

The impressive V&D building with a little building attached. Photo © Johan Bakker

The final art deco design for the eight-storey department store was going to be built enclosing the uncomfortable neighbour. The –now characteristic– appendix is a traditional store established in 1849. Its entrance is marked by an exotic bust showing its tongue which is the classic sign for a pharmacist and spices shop: Van der Pigge.

During the nineties, V&D followed the chants of Wall Street and underwent to effective investments instead of a future-proof vision. The irruption of clothing mass retailers and online shopping put the company at risk. The arbitrary selection of products within an average store framing made V&D an outdated brand nobody could identify themselves with. And so, like a trick of fate, last year all 62 department stores closed after the company declared bankruptcy. The first two floors of the behemoth are now being rented for other purposes. You can find inside Gather, a pop-up store with local design, coffee a barber and other stuff we millennials like (on Instagram).

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Entering the shop is like going to another era. Photo © Drogisterij A.J. van der Pigge

Meanwhile in Van der Pigge the time seems to stay still since the industrial revolution. From behind a very low countertop* a clerk in a brown dustcoat still handles you the spices and natural medicines in a typical paper cone. All of them are stored inside big brown jars lying behind in big selves. One question and you’ll be taught their origins, how did the imported back then and their benefits. The start product is the ancient Haarlemmer oil which has numerous health qualities.

Their strong identity is a bold statement. Tradition is their motto and, funny enough, seems like not changing is their way to survive in a world of constant change. They were sure about what they were doing since they opened and they didn’t deviate their attention from it. They have preserved their authenticity and intimate shopping experience. But, of course, they complemented with an online counterpart which makes the actual location a flagship store avant la lettre.

Drogisterij A.J. van der Pigge

Jars of liquorice. Photo © Drogisterij A.J. van der Pigge

* In the late nineteenth century, the Netherlands was a renowned for its short population. When Van der Pigge opened its doors the average height was 160 cm.

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