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When shopping was a regal experience

a group of people walking on a city street

If you venture into the centre of Sydney today, you’ll find the extravagant Strand Arcade linking George and Pitt streets. It is Sydney’s only remaining Victorian shopping arcade dating back to the late 19th century.

It was once one of six shopping arcades built in the city centre between 1881 and 1892, concentrated in the area between George, Castlereagh, King and Park streets. The lost arcades of Sydney were the Royal Arcade (between George and Pitt streets), the Victoria Arcade (linking Castlereagh and Elizabeth streets), the Sydney Arcade (between George and King streets) and the Piccadilly and Imperial Arcades (linking Pitt and Castlereagh streets but over 100m apart). Some of those names have been reused but what we see today is not like anything we saw in the past.

Sydney’s 19th century shopping arcades were constructed on the European arcade architecture of the early 1800s. Shopping arcades were a transition from street level shopping to the department store experience of the 20th century. The arcades were well covered streets aimed at well-heeled consumers, which provided customers with a place to strut their way in public, and the opportunity to shop at individual shops concentrated in one place.

But as shopping habits evolved in the 20th century, with a transition to the large department stores in the 1920s and 1930s, and as yellow, Sydney sandstone was superseded by the modern glass and steel, five of these magnificent six Victorian shopping arcades were disgracefully demolished. Only the Strand Arcade remains, although there’s a glimpse of the Sydney Arcade’s facade on King Street. The Piccadilly and Imperial Arcades live on in name only.

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IMAGE CREDIT: State Library of NSW