Brighton: Opening

Chairman Bernard Miller visits the new branch at Brighton (second from left)

Waitrose Brighton opened on 22/3/1966.  The following appeared in The Gazette at the time.

“Waitrose opens with a bang at Brighton

Waitrose opened their sixteenth supermarket on Tuesday with a bang. After two years of preparatory planning the ten thousand square feet of selling space in Western Road Brighton had been made ready by the Monday. Leaflets were being distributed. Advertisements had appeared in local papers. For weeks, Brighton inhabitants had been watching had been watching progress through the windows. Everyone was geared for the excitement of opening day, but no one seems to have expected quite so many customers. Very nearly five thousand passed through the check-outs in the eight hours of trading on Tuesday and the day’s takings were very satisfactory.
By ten o’clock when Miss Portway, a Waitrose pensioner formally opened the doors, there was a queue of fifty or sixty people. All through the sunny morning, passers-by were stopping, peering through the windows at the humming check-outs and coming in themselves. The supermarket is in an eye-catching site. Ten bus routes stop at the door, and Western Road is an established and busy shopping centre. Another big asset will be the private car park just behind with its own entrance direct to the shop. Nots many customers were taking advantage of this on opening day, but many obviously intend to next time.
The flow of customers maintained a steady momentum. The Chairman and Mrs Miller arrived at 11am, accompanied by senior Partners to find the shop full.

One customer had made a point of coming because she has an account with John Lewis. ‘I like good service,’ she said. ‘I get good service from John Lewis, and I’ve had good service here. I’ll be coming back.’ Other shoppers will be linking Waitrose with the Partnership’s department store, now that notices proclaiming the connection are prominently displayed in supermarkets.
Another customer lamented that she had done her week’s shopping the day before and wished she hadn’t. Most, whether they had intended to or not, found themselves leaving with full baskets, – like the lady who had ‘just dropped in for one or two things.’ And remarked thoughtfully as she eyed her bulging trolley. ‘I’m going to need a porter to get me home.’ Waitrose will not carry your bag home for you, but they do help you to get it to your car. The check-outs at the back of the shop have an escalator to get customers up to the car park behind (actually at first floor level owing to the slope of the site.) Their purchases are carried up for them by the automatic trolley transporter, an ingenious system of hooks on a narrow conveyor belt running alongside. An attendant hooks your loaded trolley at the bottom and another unhooks it at the top and wheels it out to your car.
The Brighton supermarket has several other interesting new ideas, though its most notable difference over the last three year’s projects is its size. It is almost twice the size of Henley and almost two thirds the size of Slough, Waitrose’s biggest branch. This extra space has made it possible to include a fresh fish department, with a counter service as well as a big delicatessen section packed with exotic foods.
Perishables are emphasized throughout. The meat counter runs across the entire width of the shop at the back. The side wall as you go in has a long expanse of fruit and vegetables and the longest continuous run of three tier cold cabinets in the country with a massive selection of frozen foods. One completely new venture for Waitrose is a cheese bar, at which customers can choose from dozens of different cheeses and get just the amount they want. This is addition to the normal selection of pre-packed cheeses. A big patisserie section sells all kinds of bread, and cakes mouth wateringly filled with real cream. A spice bar offers an enormous range of spices and herbs, and a grind-it-yourself coffee unit, now becoming standard in Waitrose supermarkets, allows customers to have their coffee just the way they want it.

Just to give them the taste, customer on the first day were offered free cups of freshly made coffee. There were also samples of Italian cheeses, smoked salmon at remarkably low prices and roast beef with a variety of piquant sauces. Four huge barons of beef had been laid in, amounting to over 250 pounds of meat in all, just to be carved up as samples. Customers who asked if they could buy some, were told that this joint was not for sale, but was merely to illustrate the quality of the meat that Waitrose intend to sell every day. By lunch time on the first day, the first baron had already nearly gone and numbers of customers were commenting that they thought the meat department looked very attractive.
Décor throughout is simpler than in some other branches. The walls are a light blue, sometimes with very broad bands of pale grey and white. The orange wall behind the meat counter is the only bright colour. Cabinets and display stands are finished in white or dark blue and the floor is a flecked cream terrazzo. Several customers approved of the airy, clean impression that this gives. They also liked the simple layout and clear directional signs.
Brighton has a modern image even in little things, like the twenty-four-hour timing used in announcing its trading hours. Normal hours will be 09.00 to 18.00 with late trading on Friday until 20.00 and an early start on Saturday morning at 08.30 to compensate for a slightly earlier closing at 17.30. Half day will be Thursday.
Behind the scenes is a big warehouse, connected with the selling by three hoists. Meat, fish and greengrocery each have their own preparation rooms. Upstairs, there is a dining-cum-rest room for Partners with a kitchen which will be able to provide them with a cooked lunch.
Over the past few weeks there has not been much opportunity for resting, however. Right up to the last moment, Partners were altering prices for instance, so as to live up to their aim of never knowingly being undersold. Comparative shoppers had come form the Intelligence Department in London, to help them off to a good start, and had found some under sales.
Waitrose colleagues had sent greetings telegrams for the opening. The management and staff of Plummers, the Debenhams department store opposite sent a large bouquet which graced the cheese bar. There was no formal expression of good wishes from sixteen thousand odd co-owners throughout the country – Brighton Partners will take that as read, if the pace of trading allows them to do it.”

Edited excerpt from The Gazette 26th March 1966, Vol 48 No 8.

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