The David Jones name has long been synonymous with retailing of fine merchandise and is one of the few Sydney department stores to survive into the 21st century.
This long-standing company began in 1838 when Welsh-born immigrant, David Jones (1793-1873), established a drapery business on the corner of George and Barrack Streets.
After surviving a bankruptcy scare in the 1850s, the company prospered with the Jones family maintaining a significant interest through David's son, Edward Lloyd, and his grandsons, Edward Lloyd, Eric and Charles Lloyd Jones (1879-1958) who was Chairman of the company between 1920 and 1958. A new four-storey building was constructed on the existing George Street site in 1887 with two extra floors added in 1906, the same year David Jones became a public company.
The newly constructed George Street building allowed the company to expand its range of stock to include furniture and home furnishings. Although David Jones exhibited a Huon Pine bedroom suite at the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, it was only from 1889 that company was listed as furniture manufacturers in Sands Sydney directories, with the factory located in Kent Street. An Art furnishers, upholsterers and decorators catalogue (FTC 658.871 DAV) dating to the late 19th century, illustrates a number of room views and declared that furniture could be made to order, repaired, polished and reupholstered. In addition, furnishing fabrics, carpets and linoleum were sold and customers were able to have carpets taken up, beaten and relaid. A new eight-storey factory was constructed in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills in 1914 (extended again in 1935), principally for the production of clothing and leather goods, at which time furniture manufacture may have ceased.
David Jones' positioning as a quality retailer was expressed through its catalogues, advertisements in journals like The Home, and through its store displays. The construction in 1927 of the new H E Budden & Mackellar designed nine-storey building on the corner of Elizabeth and Market Streets extended this perception. The plain exterior concealed marble staircases, beauty salons, a palatial restaurant overlooking Hyde Park and its own art gallery (opened 1944).
The old George Street store became known as the Men's store until another city building, designed by Mackellar & Partridge and constructed in Market Street in 1938, assumed this title. From around 1920, David Jones ceased selling furniture and floor coverings, but continued to retail such homewares as dinnerware, glassware, napery, bedding and soft furnishings. After World War II, the George Street store became more focused on home furnishings such as china, glassware, electrical equipment, kitchen fittings and the latest 'labour saving' appliances. Then from the late 1950s, the Market Street store began to sell homewares and in 1960 reintroduced furniture and floor coverings to the range.
By this date, David Jones had opened branches in Sydney's suburbs, regional areas and other state capitals. The original George Street store continued to trade until the early 1970s at which time it was sold and the site redeveloped. In 2007, there were 35 stores in the David Jones portfolio and it remains one of the few stores in central Sydney to sell home furnishings.