GSA Panel "Immigrant Retailers – German and American Experiences"

Denver, CO
German Studies Association Meeting
03.10.2013 - 06.10.2013
Jan Logemann (German Historical Institute) & Uwe Spiekermann (German Historical Institute)

CFP: Immigrant Retailers – German and American Experiences
German Studies Association Meeting, Denver, CO Oct. 3-6, 2013

Organizers: Jan Logemann (German Historical Institute) & Uwe Spiekermann (German Historical Institute)

Retailing — from small corner groceries to lavish department stores — has been an important avenue for economic and social integration in U.S. society for immigrants of German and other ethnic descent. With little capital required and often ready demand from within immigrant communities, retail stores have historically presented an attractive option for immigrant entrepreneurs. Many could draw on skills acquired in their home countries, transnational trade networks, as well as cheap family labor. While the stereotypical image of the immigrant retailer has perhaps been the corner grocer or neighborhood butcher, others enjoyed success on a larger scale. Some of the pioneering department store dynasties of the late nineteenth century from the Straus brothers and Gimbel to Filene, for example, had a German-American background. Far from being relegated to ethnic niche markets, retailing could offer the prospect of mobility in America’s emerging consumer society. While, on the one hand, immigrant retailers played an important role within immigrant groups themselves and helped to construct notions of ethnic community, they also helped transform American consumer culture more broadly.

This panel seeks to relate American experiences regarding immigrant entrepreneurship in the retail sector to those had by immigrants in Germany during the latter half of the twentieth century. Turkish-owned shops, for example, have become prominent across urban neighborhoods in Germany and “ethno-marketing,” consumer appeals to people with a “migration background,” has become increasingly popular. But does immigrant retailing really present an avenue for economic and social integration, or does it rather help to reinforce closed-off ethic communities (e.g. in its marketing appeals, labor structure, etc.)? The panel would thus like to explore the wide spectrum of immigrant experiences in retailing and their social and economic significance from a comparative, transatlantic perspective.

We seek contributions from historians, sociologists, anthropologist as well as migration and marketing scholars whose research engages one of the following topics:
- Immigrant retail businesses in modern Germany
- Retailing, “ethno-marketing,” and the construction of ethnic community
- German-American retailers

Please, send a title, short abstract, and a CV to Jan Logemann ( by February 7th. For doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars who will not receive funding from their home institutions, the German Historical Institute can sponsor travelling and accommodation.


Jan Logemann

1607 New Hampshire Ave NW
German Historical Institute

GSA Panel "Immigrant Retailers – German and American Experiences", 03.10.2013 – 06.10.2013 Denver, CO, in: H-Soz-Kult, 18.01.2013, <>.
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