The “carriage trade” is the industry engaged in transporting passengers and goods.
Because of recent campaigns by animal activists to ban the use of horses in heavy city traffic, the term has come to apply specifically to the horse-drawn carriage trade:
The NY carriage trade is under attack by the HSUS and Animal Rights activists.
Liam Neeson slammed for support of NY carriage trade
The Campaign to Ban the Carriage Trade in Montréal
The expression “carriage trade” acquired the figurative meaning of “wealthy people” because only the wealthy could afford to keep a carriage for private use. The expression has survived into the automobile age to refer to wealthy consumers. Businesses that offer luxury items or services are still said to “cater to the carriage trade”:
Herzfeld is steadfastly and proudly antiquated in its viewpoint and business practices. On its website, it says, “We provide custom shirts, suits and a full line of haberdashery to the carriage trade.”
These petty usurers often are more heartless than the major moneylenders because they live in the midst of poverty among people dressed in rags that the rich usurer who deals only with the carriage trade never sees.
Over the last century, the Shaker Square and Larchmere neighborhoods on Cleveland’s East Side have attracted not only the carriage trade of adjoining Shaker Heights but also, in the 1950s, a wave of immigrants from Hungary who settled nearby on Buckeye Road.
Because carriage also occurs in the expression “baby carriage,” some marketers have begun using “carriage trade” to mean, “merchandising aimed at parents of young children.” For example, a Wall Street Journal article about stay-at-home mothers starting child-related businesses bears this punning headline:
The Carriage Trade: Stay-at-Home Moms Get Entrepreneurial
The Ngram Viewer shows “carriage trade” in use as early as 1800. Interestingly, the expression soars in popularity beginning in the 1920s, when automobiles had already begun to push out the horse-drawn carriage.