Waitrose Chesham 192 (new location) opened on 13th June 1989.
The following article appeared in the Partnership in-house magazine at the time.
‘The building was remarkable for its sheer size and space’. Gerald remembers well the admiration the opening of Waitrose Chesham in 1969. The new branch with its façade looking like a battlement overlooking the High Street, was seen to be a model for the 1970’s – expressive of the much-vaunted ‘Waitrose personality’.
Gerald managed the meat department when the shop first opened, and now as it moves across the High Street to its new building facing The Backs, he goes along as its Manager – a position he has held for the past 14 years.
‘We thought the old shop was so big at the time. Now we are going to double our selling space – apart from acquiring all the service counters and other features that have evolved in Waitrose over 20 years’.
The new Waitrose Chesham represents the style of the Partnership’s food trading business today as clearly as its predecessor stood for the later 1960‘s. Instead of proclaiming its presence with a bold square-fronted structure overlooking the High Street, it has been carefully designed to blend in with the low Georgian buildings on the other side.
‘We took great pains to maintain the domestic scale of the street,’ says Derek, the Waitrose architect responsible for the project. There were countless meetings with the historic buildings officer attached to the Buckinghamshire County Council and others concerned with preserving the character of Chesham – and we made sure that we followed their guidelines.’
What emerged from the drawing-board was a split-level building, specially adapted to the sloping site.
‘That’s unusual in Waitrose,’ points out Derek, ‘It was created to keep the roof-line along the High Street down to the level of the structures alongside it. The dormers were introduced for the same purpose.’
The High Street is in fact at the rear of the shop. Waitrose Chesham faces The Backs which runs parallel to the High Street and gives easy access to the 220 spaces for car-borne shoppers.
‘This was a decision we made when we learned that the High Street was to be pedestrianised eventually,’ says Derek. The building contains 5 retailing units fronting the High Street.
A glazed walkway links the High Street with the Waitrose entrance and, once inside, customers are faced with a large, light selling area, very nearly square-shaped. The manager finds the shape and spaciousness a striking contrast with the old branch.
‘The light is improved ,’ says Gerald. ‘We used to have fluorescent strips that were visible on the ceiling in the old shop; this subtle lighting and low-slung ceiling is vastly different. Also the use of soft cream colours instead of clinical white adds ambiance to the shop.’
Gerald started his Waitrose career at 16 as ‘ a gentle shelf filler’ in the branch at Slough. ‘I had no real ambitions – just thought it was a fun place in which to work.’
That was in 1961. He rose to meat manager, provisions manager and in 1975 was appointed BM of Waitrose Chesham.
‘All the branches I have worked in have been fairly close to each other’.
The new Waitrose Chesham has gained all the service counters that the most up-to-date branches contain – meat, fish, delicatessen and patisserie.
‘We’ve been sending Partners to other branches for training since mid-February,’ says Gerald. Milton Keynes and Sunningdale have been particularly helpful. The training has been important, since we have so many long-serving Partners – people who are very used to the size and shape of the old shop – they would suffer from a kind of culture- shock if they weren’t properly prepared for the move.’
Gerald describes Chesham as ‘a true market town’. ‘People … tend not to travel very far or very often.’ This he believes is an important reason for his ‘stable workforce.’
The old branch served its last customer on Saturday 10th June. Derek, on secondment from Waitrose Windsor, saw it through its final stages while Gerald and his team prepared for the opening of the new shop.
Vol 71 No 20