In the late nineteenth century, San Francisco was booming and its merchant princes built grand stores such as City of Paris, Gump’s, The White House, I. Magnin, and The Emporium in the Union Square area. These stores were integral to the city’s emergence as a world-class commercial hub, starting with the mad scramble for supplies during the gold rush, and its transformation into a tourist mecca in the decades after World War II. This article looks at three of those retail enterprises: City of Paris, which satisfied desires for anything French; the I. Magnin empire, which catered to a selective upper-class clientele; and the Emporium department store, aimed at the middle class with its Bargain Basement and Santa for the kids.

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