Did you know that the first department store was in Liège?
In 1802, Michel-Joseph Orban and his son created a new type of business in Liège. A large store where shoppers could find all kinds of products, wholesale or retail, under one roof, including perfume, alcohol, drawing materials and local products.
In doing so, he invented department stores, before Harrods in London, and Bon Marché and Galeries Lafayette in Paris! This modest precursor opened on 12 September 1752 in Heyd, on the banks of the Ourthe in present-day Durbuy. It was there that he would meet and marry Jeanne Fawe, a maid working for a noble family. He left Heyd with his wife to settle in Liège to try his luck there. The young couple moved into a small house thanks to the meagre inheritance from his parents. It was there that Jeanne, who used to do her mistresses' hair, opened a hairdressing salon and built up a clientele among the town's petty bourgeoisie.
Michel-Joseph then had the idea of combining his wife's salon with a perfumery and hairdressing accessories business. It very quickly became a success, particularly as Orban travelled as far as Paris to bring back to Liège the most chic and innovative products from the French capital.
The annexation of the Principality of Liège by France allowed him to build his fortune. Not only did customs duties decrease, but the revolutionary currency, the assignat, was worth six to eight times more in Paris than in Liège, which allowed him to buy his products at very low prices. Having made his fortune, Orban began to acquire property and develop new businesses.
He died of cholera on 12 November 1833, without seeing the vast industrial, property and financial empire built up by his son.