Arcades & Laneways | State Library of New South Wales

Arcades & laneways

Arcades were designed to provide the wealthy classes with a secluded place to shop and promenade, away from the dust and grime of public streets. Elegant arcades, tenanted by small specialty shops and exclusive retailers catering to the luxury end of the market, were a popular shopping destination for the wives and daughters of well-to-do families. The Sydney Arcade (1881) was the first, followed in quick succession by the Royal (1881), the Victoria (1887), the Imperial (1891) and the Strand Arcade (1892), the only survivor today.

Read more in Discover Collections: Commerical arcades

In the 1920s elevators whisked shoppers up to specialist boutiques and services housed in glamorous shopping blocks rising high above Dymock’s Book Arcade in George Street, and Sydney’s prestigious St James and State theatres.

The quirky mix of tiny shops that gave mid-20th-century Rowe Street its European élan still
resonates with Sydney shoppers. Nostalgia for these lost shopping places has prompted a 21st-century revitalisation of vertical and laneway retailing.