Hall & Anderson Store, known as the first department store in Calcutta, was established by two friends, William Anderson and PN Hall, in a modest shop in Esplanade East. Before the opening of the shop, William Anderson was employed in the Sales section of Francis, Harrison, Hathaway and Co, the largest drapery establishment in Calcutta, while Hall was in the Accounts of the same company. The partnership between the friends started in 1894, when they started their small shop, almost a hole in the wall, very near to the Governor’s House in the Chowringhee area. They used empty upturned shipping crates as countertops to sell imported suiting materials at bargain prices. To save money, they used to sleep in the shop at night, instead of hiring a night guard. As they flourish, they shifted to the old premises of Whiteaway, Laidlaw and Co.
After that, they purchased a plot of land, along with the adjoining buildings in the block, on the corner of Chowringhee and Park Street, owned by the sister of Sir David Ezra, the wealthy property and racehorse owner.
The initial store, which Hall and Anderson built on the new site, was more a conglomerate than a single shop. The sides facing Chowringhee and Park Street had solid facades and at the rear, there was a compound containing several small buildings. Gradually, the friends acquired adjacent properties and the whole complex was demolished in 1925. The huge building on the spot, which we know today, was opened in October 1925, with half a million square feet of floor space.
Like other European retail businesses in Calcutta, Hall & Anderson also dealt only in imported goods. In the later years, they used to spend half the year in Europe, for selecting stocks and bring them back to Calcutta only for the cool winter season. They claimed that they stock the very latest items from the English and Continental markets.
They were trendsetters in certain aspects of the retail trade. For instance, they were the first to introduce kitchen items and hardware as a department. For furniture, they used good Burmese teak and Indian mahogany. Usually, the initial job of making the furniture was subcontracted to Indian carpenters and cabinetmakers, but the finishing was done by the paid workmen of the Hall & Anderson at their workshops. The shop also carried a large range of carpets.
Hall and Anderson were prompt to adopt the value payable post, which not only extended their trade over vast distances, but also reduced the risks of unpaid accounts of distant customers. Orders came from all parts of India, South-East Asia and Aden. To encourage their distance trading, 100,000 copies of the famous 600-page catalogue known as 'Lal Kitab' were sent out every October.
In 1946, the British partners sold the business to Sahan Lai Jajodia. However, the roaring business of Hall and Anderson nosedived after the exodus of the British, Jewish and Anglo Indians following the Independence of India in 1947 and consequently, the first departmental store in Calcutta obliterated forever from the face of the city.