In 1962 Waitrose proudly opened its tenth supermarket in the Hertfordshire village of Barnet.
‘Those were the heady days when a ‘new public addiction to self-service shopping in Britain’ was being identified. The Gazette described the Waitrose interior as ‘surely the brightest and most richly coloured that we have so far created.’
Now 27 years later, Barnet sees the emergence of a new supermarket incorporating all the sleek features of contemporary food shopping. On Saturday 11th March the last customer passed through the checkouts of branch 109, three days later a vastly enlarged branch 191 opened for trade.
The new Waitrose Barnet is only a few meters away from its predecessor. It has moved across the Great North Road into anew cloistered shopping centre called the Spires. Waitrose is the first and largest retailer to trade in the 26-unit centre, which will be officially opened on 23rd May.
Despite the proximity of the old branch to the new, a vast distance in style separates them. ‘The new Waitrose Barnet represents a totally different era in shopping ‘, says its Manager Russell.
The selling area has trebled, the assortment has been greatly enlarged and the shop is equipped with all the service counters that characterise newer Waitrose branches. Close on 100 extra selling assistants have been recruited to bring the number of Partners and weekend assistants to nearly 200.
Russell who joined the Partnership nearly 14 years ago as an A-Level trainee at Waitrose Temple Fortune has watched the emergence of 191 across the street during the 13 months he has been at the helm of the now defunct branch 109.
There are others like Janice who recall Waitrose Barnet in its heyday. Janice joined the branch as a grocery assistant 25 years ago and now, a quarter of a century later, remains in charge of the tea and coffee shelves in the new shop.’ I’ll be a bit sorry to move’ she confesses.
Careful steps have been taken for Janice and other long-serving Barnet Partners to develop a certain amount of familiarity with anew style Waitrose.
‘There has been training for everyone – old and new Partners alike. Most of them have had a chance to experience a short period in one of the large branches in the area’ says Russell. ‘It’s been comfortable and very cosy here – and now Partners have to adjust to the size, new departments, new levels of lighting …..’
‘Comfortable and cosy’ were hardly the terms used in the Gazette when it rose to the occasion of the 1962 opening of Waitrose Barnet with florid eloquence. The fruit and vegetable assortment evoked particularly lavish prose:
‘Curly green lettuces, pineapples, red tomatoes, white celery, the soothing grape purple, racy chillies and lemons. This display, with mirror backing to multiply heaps of tumbling sun-kissed succulence, is a salad lover’s dream.’
There was some breathless excitement too in the description of a ‘new kind of bacon unit’ with its charcoal- grey marbled base and tiered half-shelves offering rashers and joints. A novel feature was a machine which fitted a closely-moulded stretch film bag like a glove around the joint’
Such innovation would hardly inspire the same kind of enthusiasm today. The new branch with its cool spaciousness and comparatively restrained colours has all the technology that one would expect in a modern Waitrose food shop. Computerised temperature controls, cheque-writers, branch computers and the most up-to-date telephone systems are now taken as a matter of course.
Russell does however mention with some pride that the new Barnet shop has ‘the largest fruit and vegetable area in Waitrose.’ And while the wide-open Hertfordshire countryside is no longer visible from the windows of the Partners’ Dining Room, there is now a broad balcony for partners to take some air.
The Gazette of 1962 posed some searching questions in an attempt to explain ‘supermarket success.’ Was it convenience that customers sought or speed or value? ‘Probably it’s a combination of all and a mid-century taste for novelty as well.’ In likelihood the same criteria apply today with a late century taste for novelty that is undiminished.’
Edited excerpt taken from The Gazette Vol 71 No 7.18th March 1989