Newcastle’s Co-op department store lured shoppers for decades until it closed in 2011. While it was being converted into a hotel, photographs have captured one last glimpse inside the on-going store of disappearance.
For decades the Co-op department store on Newcastle’s Newgate Street was a favorite with Tyneside shoppers.
It opened 90 years ago, joining Marks & Spencer, British Home Stores and C&A, all of which unveiled large outlets on Northumberland Street in 1932 as the city experienced a retail boom. The new co-operative was described in local newspapers as “stately” and “a palace of commerce” – with “Newcastle Co-operative Society’s new skyscraper” being built in two stages.
Hundreds of company members attended the first opening in September 1932, and at Christmas that year shoppers flocked to the store’s various departments, which included “Grocery and Provisions”, “Butcher Shop” , “confectionery” and “drugs”. The co-op is still with us today, but by the 20th century almost every town and village in the northeast had its own co-op outlet or “store” selling every conceivable good and service.
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Newgate Street had been home to co-op premises since 1902 and the early days of the movement, and with the emergence of Northumberland Street as Newcastle’s main shopping center in the late 1920s/early 1930s, the co-op decided to stay on square. in Newgate Street.
With its twin towers, soaring curves, huge windows offering impressive views over the city, the now iconic building was once considered Newcastle’s most elegant shopping centre. At 170,000 square feet and spread over six floors, connected by marble-lined staircases, it was the ultimate retail experience.
The co-op’s in-house architect, LG Ekins, designed the new store, including many of the Art Deco features – inside and out – that characterized the interwar period. Classical and Egyptian features were also used in the design. But over time, as tastes and fashions have changed, shoppers have become increasingly accustomed to Northumberland Street and the new shopping centers at Eldon Square and the Metrocentre in Gateshead.
In 1998, the Rainbow Rooms nightclub, located on the third floor of the Co-op building, closed after more than 30 years. Then in 2007 the store itself – except for the ground floor food store – closed after 75 years.
Finally, in 2011, this final section of the once imperious Co-op store at 117 Newgate Street closed. Today the building is home to a Premier Inn which opened in 2016 after a five-year, £17million redesign.
Interestingly, as this work continued, historic building consultant Sarah Dyer kindly shared photographs with the Chronicle, which offered one last tantalizing glimpse inside the vanishing co-op. Among the features captured by Sarah were hidden staircases, retro graffiti, a lost archway, posters of the Rainbow Rooms, hand-painted art deco advertisements and the last of the famous Men of the Stairwell Co- op.
Fortunately, 90 years after the store opened, some of the original features remain in the popular hotel.
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