The Oechsle chain of department stores has an almost legendary status among Limeños old enough to remember it. Long before the arrival of the Chilean chains Ripley and Saga, back when Lima was a developed and modern city, Oechsle was regarded as one of the most successful and important department stores in South America.
It was a German immigrant who started the store on its way to success. Augusto Fernando Oechsle opened a small shop in July of 1888 that was dedicated to the sale of threads, laces and buttons imported from Europe. He was very successful and expanded his product range to textiles, home decoration and even children’s toys.
Peru’s first department store was born and by 1917 had its flagship store in Lima’s prestigious Plaza de Armas. As well as being the only place in the country with similar imported products, and the largest store of any kind, it was also home to the country’s first electric elevator to take customers between the different floors.
By the 1930s children’s toys were given their own department and Oechsle became Peru’s most important toy store. By 1945 the shop sold everything for the home… decorative items, furniture, and kitchen items, as well as clothes. This was also the year that the founder of the Oechsle empire passed away, handing the reigns over to his son Alex Oechsle Pruss.
In 1966, newspaper La Prensa famously said of the department store; “there are only two places in Lima where those who worship good taste can go to get those thousand and one items that are an integral part of the home”.
Both of these places were Oechsle – the group had opened another store in sub-urban San Isidro, where the department store Sears had also come to compete.
During the 70s Oechsle became a household name for all middle class families as more stores opened in Miraflores, Surco and Magdalena. When in the 1980s, the Tschudi family (owners of the supermarket chain Monterey, the supermarket of choice in the time before Wong) and the Oechsle family joined as the result of marriage, the Oechsle chain passed into the hands of the Monterey supermarket chain.
When Alan Garcia was elected president, he was quick to destroy the country. By 1991 hyperinflation reached 7,649%, or a cumulative 2 million percent. He plunged the country into absolute poverty and fled abroad with his pockets full, leaving Peru to rot.
Central Lima, home to Oechsle’s flagship store, became a garbage-strewn wasteland, home to makeshift street markets of people struggling to make a living. The hills around decaying Lima, itself suffering from terrorist attacks and curfews, were slowly covered with the shanty-towns of Andean villagers fleeing the country’s civil war.
The Oechsle chain collapsed, bankrupt.
Over the course of 16 years, the name passed into history, as too did the country’s economic and terrorist problems. But the brand was never forgotten, remaining a fond memory of the Lima of yesteryear.
Owners of Peruvian bank Interbank and the Plaza Vea supermarket chain were keen to get a slice of the newly booming economy and massively increasing spending power of the population, which was demonstrated by the successful spread of shopping malls across what were once considered the poorer areas of Lima, and even into other cities in the country once considered “rural provinces”.
Their new commercial centres lacked an in-house big name department store – something that would surely be more profitable than renting space to Chilean giants Saga or Ripley.
So the group decided to buy the rights to the Oechsle brand, and, as a clear illustration of the post-Garcia economic boom, opened the first store in early 2009 not in Lima, but in the Andean city of Huancayo. Lima wasn’t even next in line, that honour went to Trujillo.
It wasn’t until the end of last year with the completion of Real Plaza Centro, between the once run down Av. Wilson and Plaza Grau that will soon be the central hub of Lima modern bus network, that Lima finally saw the return of Oechsle – a Peruvian owned department store selling Peruvian made goods.