Links in the Chain: Department Stores in Socialist Yugoslavia, 1950s-1980s

Links in the Chain: Department Stores in Socialist Yugoslavia, 1950s-1980s

History Hangout: Conversation with Ivana Zimbrek


Yugoslavian planners considered themselves to be architects of a third way “between the blocs,” aligned neither with the capitalist West nor the Communist East, but rather masters of their own socio-economic destiny. This ramified in the economy and on the streets of Yugoslav cities in the form of supermarkets and their larger kin department stores. 

Ivana Zimbrek, PhD candidate in history at Central European University, investigates the history of Yugoslav department stores as the product of professional imagination in a markedly international context. While the department store as a retail technology had its origins in the explicitly capitalist United States, Yugoislav planners admired its efficiency and “cultural level,” and believed that they could turn it toward state-socialist purposes. As a result, indigenized department stores populated the new neighborhoods of growing capital cities, and later gained a place in the historic centers of smaller towns throughout Yugoslavia. Zimbrek studied a diverse archive of retail and department store materials housed in the Hagley Library collections to better understand American precedents and to compare and contrast them with the Yugoslav experience. 

In support of her work Zimbrek received a research grant from the Center for the History of Business, Technology, & Society at the Hagley Museum & Library.

The audio only version of this program is available on our podcast.