In 1912, a small department store called Harrods opened in Buenos Aires, one that by the 1920s expanded to almost a city block. Although named after the founder of the London store, the manager of Harrods London, Richard Burbidge, his son Woodman, and a few board members planned the purchase of land and opened the business, and then presented it to the entire London board. Unfamiliar with Buenos Aires, believing that women consumed more than men, and presuming that upper-class women there had the same consumer desires of those in England, the store opened catering to the upper-class female population and focused on readymade dresses. And, to the great surprise of the local manager, women of all classes did not want these dresses because they preferred to purchase cloth and take it to their dressmakers.
The dilemma facing Harrods Buenos Aires, detailed in company reports in the archive of Harrods London and in scans of Buenos Aires Harrods archives in the possession of British bookseller Jennifer Wilton-Williams, show that sales reports, rather than studies of the Argentine market like those published by the US Department of Commerce, shaped the new department store’s response. Until the 1940s, Harrods Buenos Aires focused on the sale of less expensive articles that came from its dining room, its cosmetics department, and infants’ and children’s clothing. Furthermore, employees purchased more than 40 percent of the clothing. Originally imagined as the flagship of the upper-class female shopper, it ended up as a store for the middle class, especially women who bought gifts and enjoyed being seen in the dining room. It closed in 1998.