“We regret to inform our customers that Midlands Co-operative Fashion & Home Department stores are proposed to be closing.”
I’m really not sure what’s happening with the Co-op, or why their department stores are vanishing faster than an MP at the start of summer recesss (though if their management can’t even write a sentence in English – see the January 2013 closure announcement above – it doesn’t hold out much hope). I suppose they’ve just given up trying to find a niche, though it’s hard to believe these often well-stocked stores couldn’t have worked a bit harder. The co-op website blames the growth in online shopping, but I cannot believe a massive percentage of regular visitors to this shop are active internet fanatics. Often the Co-op department stores have felt a little like a left-over from the 70s, possibly to try and keep the older clientele who grew up with the co-operative ethos in their blood (and the divi cards in their purse), and failed to address the younger customers needed to sustain the business. But their disappearance does leave huge gaps in the high street.
I was in Chesterfield recently and shocked to discover their large store closing that very week (July 24 to be exact). It was the largest remaining shop in the town and also sited in a remarkable area of neo-Tudor black and white shops and covered arcades which have already been neglected for far too long. These are tailor made for high end retailers and small businesses but most lie empty, presumably due to greedy landlords. This could be solved by forcing them to reduce rents on properties they leave empty for more than six months and giving start-ups decent long term lease options. Down the road Hudson’s Records still sits empty, what good has forcing them out done anyone? The council meanwhile is wasting millions across the road mauling the Victorian Market Hall for a second time. Yet a newly opened second hand book shop and a sci-fi store not far away show people will have a go if given a chance.
I pottered in to the Co-op just to see what if any of the original shop survived but if there is anything, it must be hidden under layers of modern wall cladding and false ceilings. The place looked really strange stripped of most of the stock, yet with all the lighting and counters still in place, and shell-shocked regulars trying to find the few areas still open. One particularly desolate floor had been left with the fixtures and fittings they couldn’t be bothered to take back to the central warehouse, a few folk rummaging through boxes of tinsel and the backroom staff’s old screwdrivers (50p each and made in Britain, but designed for shelf brackets so useless to anyone else) in search of bargains. Upstairs the cafe was as busy as always despite rows of undressed shop dummies just a few yards away.
Interior lighting and no tripod meant I had to balance the camera on whatever was to hand to grab a few pictures and hope for the best. The strange blurring of people walking past the empty shelves was the result and somehow summed up the whole miserable experience.