Barnet 109: Opening

Waitrose Barnet opened in September 1962.  The following appeared in the Partnership’s magazine, The Gazette, at the time.

Opening of Barnet store

Waitrose’s 10th supermarket opened at Barnet last Tuesday [September 1962]. A public addiction to supermarket and self-service shopping in Britain continues to grow, so more and more knowledge and experience are being built up in the Food Group. The highly skilled techniques which retailers, wholesalers and shop fitters are continually evolving have again been combined in a shop which should prove compellingly attractive to the public.

The first impression of Barnet about an hour after the doors opened was that it could not possibly be a NEW shop. It is so well equipped, stocked and staffed that it instantly conveys authority. Gleaming and shining and modern in every aspect, it is invested with maturity that comes from confidence and expert arrangement.
The shop is compact and inviting. The site was formerly a cinema. The architect for the Partnership was Mr Cutler, of the Directorship of Building. Much of the internal and external construction was carried out by the Works and Maintenance Department.
The frontage on the High Street admirably placed in the middle of the main shopping area, is 54 feet long. The selling area covers 8,450 square feet, smaller than Slough, nearly as big as Watford, larger than Chiswick. It stocks all the varied foodstuffs we have grown to expect. Non-food merchandise includes stockings and cosmetics.
One of its advantages is the car park at the back with accommodation for 30 customers’ cars. A separate entrance to the shop from the car park is a valuable adjunct with its own checkout where the customer can pay for her purchases and go straight to her car. The six check outs at the front entrance are arranged in pairs, back-to-back in angled bays, which gives the operators plenty of room for movement. Each has a special Swedish chair which will turn easily on wheels in any direction at a touch of the foot from under the counter. The belt which carries the purchases along the checkout counter, halts automatically every seven inches, calculated as the right distance to match the time it takes the operator to press the cash register keys for one amount.

The inside of the shop is the brightest and richly coloured we have so far created. Under the unsullied clear white ceiling, the colours of the walls, floor and merchandise leap up in a kaleidoscope projection of greeting. There is a lot of warm blue on the walls and three stretches of yellow, ochre and jasmine – throw out light and a general overtone of sunshine. This is particularly noticeable in the Fruit and Vegetable area. Here the display artist, latent in every salesman, has full rein. 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 succulent sun kissed succulence, is a salad lover’s dream.
Food itself, and packages, tins and containers it comes in, is so brightly coloured nowadays, that a shop decorator has his work cut out to override the cacophony with some authentic design. At Barnet, Mr McKenzie, our Decorating Consultant, has fully succeeded. His selection of sunflower orange as the keynote, provides inspired relief from the routine garish scarlets and pallid light blues. The long fascia at the back of the shop, above the meat and poultry section is dominant and explosive, but well balanced by the serene glossy whites and trim blues and yellows of the tiled backing. This bold use of tiles is very distinctive. It adds height and depth without any hint of the forbiddingly clinical aura that tiled areas are prone to. This accentuates the ambitious, imaginative use of dramatically proportioned colours throughout.

Down one side stretch, there are long four-tiered fixtures of provisions. They have blue fronts and descriptive tickets in white lettering on red backgrounds. Propriety cosmetics in new self-service assortments, ice cream, ‘bargain buys’, cereals, packs of brown-only eggs and continental specialities are there in practical quantities. The bakery section has a particularly stringent freshness control system. All perishable items are coded for ‘shelf life’; nothing remains on sale after the period indicated by its code has expired. Everything is looked at every day.
A new kind of bacon unit has a charcoal- grey marbled base and tiered half shelves offering rashers and joints. The bacon and gammon joints are pre-packed in a closely moulded stretch film bag which is fitted like a glove round the joint by a new machine. The joint can be simmered in this film which preserves the flavour.

Getting the food into a food shop is great deal more complicated and more vital to its success than the ordinary intake procedure of a drapery store. Food buyers have to be in the markets from 4a.m. onwards and fresh produce of every kind must be received and prepared for sale at the shop as quickly as possible. Barnet is exceptionally fortunate in having such good facilities for goods handling. The days when a hindquarter of beef had to be manhandled in and out of a cold room are gone for ever. There are three unloading points in the car park. Each opens straight into its own storage cool room – one for meat, one for greengrocery and one for provisions. Far more satisfactory than having one cold store for all the goods together. Different products require different temperatures and as the fresh mornings’ produce comes in, it goes straight into its own appropriate temperature and thence into the temperature in the display cabinets. The old bad storage methods, especially calamitous in their detrimental effect on vegetables, are eliminated.
Dry goods for the first-floor warehouse which extends over most of the selling area go up by lift from the unloading bay. In the warehouse they are conveyed on trolleys and sorted and price -marked by 2 methods. One is the printed circle in purple ink that you are certainly familiar with on solid packets and tins. Six dabs of the marker on the ink pad will print 200 prices, or there is the press-o-matic which spits off tiny sticky tickets at any price you choose at forty a minute. This is ideal for soft and wobbly sachets and single oranges.
Telephoned orders for shelf replacements come up all day from the departments below. Two lifts connect shop and warehouse for immediate supply.

There are offices and cloakrooms also on the first floor, but pride of place must go the Partners’ Dining Room and kitchen on the second floor which are very stylish. The windows overlook pleasant countryside and when the eye is tired of the hills and trees it can come back and be stimulated and revitalised by the bizarre Harlequin Sunflower paper on one wall, the grey, white and yellow striped curtains and the Teal blue floor. Add a return appearance on the door of the rich Provencal orange of the main facia and you will applaud a significant development in amenity décor.

Explanations for supermarket success abound. Why do people like them? Convenience? Speed? Value? Theorists and researchers offer these and many other reasons. Probably it’s a combination of all and a mid-century taste for novelty as well. It is certain they have come to stay. Supermarkets have been widely accused of being impersonal, inimical to the establishment of mutual respect between retailer and customer. But this essential constituent of good business, is fostered to the fullest extent by Waitrose. Staff recruitment for supermarkets presents no difficulty. Workers come because they find glamour in the system. Perhaps after all the theorising that’s what brings the customers too. Barnet will do well.

Edited Excerpt from The Gazette 15th September 1962.

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