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Changing Times | Co-op stores have long bee feature of town

AS OUR town centre changes, I thought  I would look at one of our remaining historical shops, The Co-op. How many people can remember their Co-op dividend number or that of their parents? My parent’s number was 11188.


This was a number unique to you and one which allowed you to collect your dividend, I think, annually. As part of the Co-operative Society’s policy of profit sharing, a dividend of 1s. 8d (8p) in the £ was paid to those who joined. For a number of years the dividend could be collected from the church hall in Sudley Road, at the rear of St. John’s Church, today the site of Boots and Sports Direct. Later, stamps were given, in the same way as the old Green Shield stamps, and these were redeemable in the stores. No store cards to remember, just your number when asked in the shop – certainly less to carry around and much safer.


Did you know that the Co-operative Society for the town was established in 1873 in Portsmouth? Its expansion to Chichester and beyond was due to suburban expansion.  Do you know how many sites there have been in the town over the years and their locations today?


For many years, the Co-op Milk Depot was situated in Ockley Road, where today we have a carwash facility. When I was living in Gainsboro Road in the 1970s it was very handy just to nip around the corner to get your milk and fresh Devonshire cream for any special occasion, or the unexpected visitor. Eventually,this service was moved to Chichester, the local yard closed and the buildings were demolished.


The first shop opened in the town during 1933 and it was known as Pimco – Portsea Island Mutual Co-operative Society. This store was located in Canada Grove, apparently facing the Pavilion Gardens, as their point of reference. Then for 35 years it was the Aladdin’s Cave and now a European supermarket.


The Co-op’s advertising at this time included mention of just one of their services that of ‘the collection and delivery of orders free to all parts of the district’ also, apparently, it was necessary to mention that ‘full dividend was given’ even for orders delivered.


During the Second World War, their advertising remarked that you could ‘enjoy your holiday’ with the phrase, ‘let the Co-operative take care of your emergency ration cards.’ By now the advertisement included its branches in North Bersted and Hawthorn Road.


With the growth in population by the 1950s, the Co-op business in the town was expanding and so it required larger premises. To meet the needs, two sites in the High Street were bought. One site was at No 62, which was a two-storey building between the old bus station and Cleeves on the corner, where today we have the NatWest Bank. This site is thought to have been built around the 1820s and was occupied for a time by Wade’s the builder and after 1945 by one of the town’s secondhand dealers, Mr Ashton.


This store in the High Street sold almost everything, similar to that which today we purchase in any of the out of town supermarkets. The original store was demolished and a Co-op departmental store built which opened in August, 1957.


In addition, the Co-op purchased another shop across the road at No 55, and this was a self-service food hall, which also opened in August, 1957.  Garforths next occupied the site, now a supermarket. The food hall was on the ground floor and an upper floor was for staff rooms, as in 1958 they anticipated employing in the region of 40–55 people in these two stores, all of whom were to be recruited locally.  The society secretary at the time, remarked that the ‘food hall would be self-serve – a trend that was only just beginning to make its presence felt.’


The first day of opening for the departmental store saw customers being enticed by opening offers, which included a range of goods including white weather duffle coats for boys, from 35/- (£1.75p) and long sleeved men’s shirts at 15/- (75p).  Axminster carpets were also available from 42/- (£2.10p). Now take your mind back to those very popular uncut moquette studio couches that were all the rage for a princely sum of £28.9s. 6d or 104 weekly payments of £2.9.0d. I wonder if there are any still in a bedsit somewhere in the town? They also sold a range of the somewhat new plastic items, including tables, cake dishes, flowerpot holders and even plastic waste paper bins at 3/- or 15p.


Trade and tastes eventually changed. Out of town shopping was becoming more popular and the main store was beginning to struggle so changed to become known as Co-op Homemaker. Here, items for the home were the order of the day and in one advertisement in 1983 you could purchase an Amstrad CTV, 14in portable TV for £169.95.  Ultimately, this store also closed and for a number of years were taken over by a company called Tracey’s who also sold furniture and household items.


During 1983, the Co-op advertised that as their organisation was 100 years old, it had mounted a search to find citizens who were 100 years old during November. These people or their families were asked to contact the society now known as the Caring Sharing Co-op.


When we entered the new millennium, the Co-op believed it was now a family of business, with activities ranging from food to finance, farms to funerals. Also, it had a large presence on the internet, which is a far cry from its start of working in communities.


In Hawthorn Road, the shop continued, while the main town centre shops were closing. Without these, the Co-op looked for other sites and the closure of the Olby’s/Cover’s site in Hawthorn Road at the junction with Gravits Lane saw it bought by the Co-op and its new supermarket was given the go ahead in February, 1993. So there are two Co-ops in the road – one run by Southern Co-op and the other the national group.

Posted in Lifestyle.