This paper suggests that Alexander's recent call (1997) for a greater application of historical method applies not only to retail strategy but also to property assets and their locality. The neglect of historic locational legacies is hard to reconcile with recent welcome moves towards more contextualized research; research, indeed, that shares the more general concerns of social science. Taking the case study area of Stoke-onTrent we find that attempts to apply familiar models of location are problematic. The dominant central retailing area of Stoke-on-Trent is indisputably Hanley, but many district centres have substantial retail floorspace, as does nearby Newcastle under Lyme. We first utilize historical records to outline the growth and development of the area, finding that retail structure is an enduring legacy. Subsequently, with the historically influenced urban fabric as a 'given' element, we use contemporary professional opinion to assess the enduring effects of this historical contingency. We argue that this approach offers a vision of both structure and agency in retail change.