Dry goods is a historic term describing the type of product line a store carries, which differs by region. The term comes from the textile trade, and the shops appear to have spread with the mercantile trade across the British colonial territories (and former territories) as a means of bringing supplies and manufactured goods out to the far-flung settlements and homesteads that were spreading around the globe. Starting in the mid-1700s, these stores began by selling supplies and textiles goods to remote communities, and many customized the products they carried to the area's needs. This continued to be the trend well into the early 1900s; but with the rise of the department stores and catalog sales, the decline of the dry goods stores began.
In Commonwealth countries, dry goods are dry food, with reference to pre-refrigeration days of the early 20th century. Such foods could be transported and stored without immediate danger of spoiling. Dried beans, flours, whole grains and rolled oats are examples.
In the United States, dry goods are products such as textiles, ready-to-wear clothing, and sundries. In U.S. retailing, a dry-goods store carries consumer goods that are distinct from those carried by hardware stores and grocery stores.
Dry goods as a term for textiles has been dated back to 1742 in England or even a century earlier. Dry goods can be carried by stores specializing only in those products (a type of specialty store), or may be carried by a general store or a department store.
Beginning in the early 20th century, as many dry goods stores expanded into other lines of merchandise, the term largely disappeared from both everyday usage and the official names of the businesses concerned.
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