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Sharon Boothroyd dept store

With the recent sad collapse of BHS, I feel that it's a good time to remind ourselves of that high street favourite - our famous classic department stores.

In the mid- 1980's, I bravely ventured north to Newcastle upon Tyne. As a Yorkshire lass, the big city department stores there simply dazzled me: Bainbriges, Binns, Fenwicks, BHS, C & A, Littlewoods … one on practically every street.

They were all so softly carpeted and the amazing array of escalators smoothly swept the customer to each tempting department. Growing up in a small Pennine town, I’d only known our own, rather old- fashioned Co-op store, where they sold clothes, shoes, furniture and electrical goods.

Choice was limited, even at Christmas.

But Fenwick’s toy department in Newcastle was on a much grander scale. I’d never seen anything like it! At Christmas time, I’d gaze in awe at their wonderful window display, which was truly magical, full of colour and light. It held a different theme very year. Fenwick’s was founded in 1882 by J. J Fenwick in Newcastle upon Tyne.

I felt sad when Woolies went under. One of the original five and dime stores, it was founded in Pennsylvania in 1879 by Frank Winfield Woolworth with a loan of just $300! Over the years, they’ve held an eclectic and ever -changing mix of stock. I recall buying make- up, tights and toiletries. Plus, they sold records, later expanding into CD’s and DVD’s. 

The children's Ladybird brand of clothes were always popular and of course, there were the famous pick and mix sweets. In their final years, the local branches here in Yorkshire were tailored exclusively for the children’s market, selling sweets, comics, dressing- up costumes, toys and games. For a while, Woolworth's traded online only. Now this too, has closed, but you can still find Woolies products on the VERY website:

I have very fond memories of C & A.

Founded by German brothers, Clemens and August in 1841, they took their company name from their initials. Clothing was reasonably priced and good quality. As a twenty- something, I bought some great pieces from their 'Clockhouse' fashion section. Anyone remember the jingle on their TV adverts? ‘Come to C & A, see the things you’re looking for. Come to C & A and see surprises everywhere. Open up your eyes, mirrors don’t tell lies, have a beautiful day, come to C & A…’C & A was a strong presence on the British high street for over 75 years. It withdrew from trading in the UK in the year 2000. Primark took over 11 of their stores.

Who remembers Richard shops?

Founded by Leeds born businessman, Jack Lyons, it traded from the 1960’s to the 1990’s. Another TV ad jingle I remember very well is theirs:
‘Richard shops are filled with all the pretty things. Such a lot of pretty things to wear. Hey there, pretty face, make the world a prettier place. Hey pretty face, come buy your clothes at Richard shops.’ If my memory is correct, I think the strapline was’ Make the world a prettier place tomorrow.’ In 1992, Richard shops were sold to the British retailing giant, Sears PLC. The then owner of Selfridges, Philip Green (who acquired Sears) transferred Richard shops to the Arcadia group. They then closed Richard shops, and it was lost forever.

In 2016, this too, became the fate of all the well- loved BHS stores.

As I became older, BHS was my first stop for the quality staples of everyday wear – underwear, skirts, tops etc. BHS was founded in 1928 by a group of US entrepreneurs. It became part of Philip Green's Arcadia group in 2009.
In April 2016, the chain went into administration and by June, the company wound down after failing to find a buyer. It's 164 stores were closed and BHS ceased trading after 88 years.

What can I say about this business disaster? What a tremendous waste!

However, at the time of writing (Nov 2016) the company is selling online, using the name The British Home Store: What happened to those big department stores? Binns were bought out by the House of Frazer group and Bainbridges were bought out by the John Lewis group.

Littlewoods eventually decided to trade online only.

The department stores that are still doing well include Debenhams, House of Frazer, Marks and Spencer, Fenwicks and John Lewis

So we can still shop till we drop!

Written by Sharon Boothroyd

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