The changing face of Waitrose Wine Departments

Today we take for granted being able to buy all our shopping under one roof but 60 years ago things were very different. The High Street where we all shopped was dominated by small shops belonging to multiple chains like Home and Colonial, The Coop, Liptons ,  Dewhursts, MacFisheries, Threshers and Oddbins . Supermarkets coming to the fore included Tesco, Fine Fare ,Victor Value and Sainsburys. All were keen to offer one stop shopping.

The move by Waitrose into this arena in the 1960’s led to a similar expectation. Although there was no restriction on selling by self service groceries, fruit and vegetables, meat and fish,  wines and spirits were different.

Their retail sale was then strictly controlled by the Licensing Justices., and one needed a licence to be able to trade. This was not easy to obtain, since there were many pressure groups at the time arguing that their ready sale offered temptation which encouraged drunkenness, together with the increased possibility of shoplifting.

When planning a new Waitrose branch one had to take into account the fact that very often the Justices only met three times a year , so the application for a provisional licence could take place months before opening with the final , which involved a site inspection as near as possible to opening for final agreement, even though sometimes the off licence had to be completed weeks before the rest of the store.

Strict procedures had to be followed in order to obtain a licence. Waitrose would employ a firm of Solicitors specialising in this field, and they would need to demonstrate need by producing a radius map of the area showing the competition and  population in the area. Self service being in its infancy, the method of operation was critical, and it was easier to obtain a licence by either selling the range by service from behind a counter , or with a small self contained area with its own payment point. Many of the Waitrose branches in the seventies adopted this style and it only later as self service became more accepted, that changes were introduced to incorporate wines and spirits into the main store. At that time a number of stores either opened with separate off licences ( Henley 111 and Tilehurst 116 ) or traded with a separate unit opposite (Brent Cross 119). In the event that a licence was refused an appeal would be made involving a Barrister, who could be more persuasive at convincing the Justices, which today must seem like taking a sledge hammer to crack a nut, but such was the worry then about encouraging drinking by making alcohol more readily available, that that was the only solution if one wished to obtain a licence.

Today the procedure is nowhere near as complicated and where as only the off licence was licensed then, now the whole store is, which enable promotions to be displayed anywhere.

One final point as the Manager was the licensee, his name had to be displayed over the entrance doors, so Management changes involved a visit from a signwriter to update that information.

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