When British Home Stores opened in Aberdeen in 1974, people were told it would be a shopping experience “with room to move and room to choose”.
The Victorian arcades and galleries of the Archibald Simpson-designed Aberdeen New Market had been swept away in 1971 to make room for modern concrete and steel.
English poet John Betjeman was so impressed with the New Market that after a visit to Aberdeen he wrote about it, saying “my attention was seized by a huge wall of granite, so bold, so simple in design, so colossal in its proportions that I stood puzzled. I have seen nothing like it, before or since”.
Such was his fondness for the “magnificence” of the building, he added his voice to campaigns to save it from demolition.
But the protests were in vain, not even the sturdy granite columns could stand in the way of progress.
On November 6 1974, BHS opened its brand new, state-of-the-art premises in Aberdeen – its second largest department store in Britain.
The Union Street shop incorporated a complete modern redevelopment of the New Market which also opened its doors on the same day.
Aberdonians were told “the latest addition to Scottish BHS gives the Aberdeen housewife the advantage of savings” and products of “quality and value”.
The one-stop-shop promised a similar retail experience as Woolworths which had done a roaring trade on Union Street for decades.
The lofty, Victorian galleries were no more; instead BHS and the incorporated market favoured an open-plan food hall.
BHS had its own expert butcher, aisles packed with fresh and frozen goods as well as a selection of continental cheeses.
An advert appealing to the Aberdeen housewife said: “One of the first lessons a new housewife learns is to discriminate when buying food for her family.
“She needs to make sure the standards provide first-class fresh food at a cost within her personal budget.
“A boon to the busy housewife is the loose frozen food section selling peas, beans, cauliflorets, potato croquettes and chips.”
Also catering for younger customers, BHS offered a magical experience in the toy department: from “trains, teddies or teasets there was a fine choice for boys and girls”.
Many Aberdonians may have less fond memories of the annual pilgrimage to BHS during the summer holidays to get new school uniforms for the coming year.
Although the torture of being dragged on a shopping trip was often accompanied with a bribe of a sweet treat or cake in BHS’s self-service restaurant afterwards.
But the usual hustle and bustle of BHS was disrupted one lunchtime in September 1978, when a painter carrying out maintenance on the building got trapped outside.
Tradesman Kevin Barrow was 60ft from the ground when the winch lever of the cradle he was working in got stuck.
A crowd gathered to watch the spectacle as store staff called the fire brigade who used a height ladder to bring Kevin back down to earth.
BHS offered a “big future ahead” for its employees, promising opportunities and training schemes for new starts – as well as increased wages for its Aberdeen workforce.
There was a great camaraderie among staff, many of whom made friends for life at the store.
Employees had access to a special staff restaurant with lunches, afternoon tea, cakes and sandwiches free of charge.
And ambitious shop assistants had the opportunity to work in different stores and travel Britain.
Staff enjoyed a furnished lounge area for breaks during busy shifts, and out of hours, BHS also ran a social club.
The club organised outings, dances and parties for the Aberdeen workforce and BHS even made a contribution to the costs of the entertainments.
The teamwork among staff at the food department in Aberdeen’s BHS was recognised in 1983, when they won the company’s top food store trophy.
Food manager Bella Cox was named as the best in the company’s chain of 120 shops in Britain.
The Aberdeen store also won awards for its philanthropic activities for charity, and in 1984, the branch raised an incredible £10,000 for Cancer Research.
Staff were presented with a bronze certificate of appreciation for their efforts.
The shop also had strong links with the local community, sponsoring the Aberdeen secondary schools football league and providing team sweatshirts.
Christmas was always a wonderful time of year at BHS with shoppers thronging through its door for gifts and a visit to Santa’s grotto.
BHS was also instrumental in helping organise the annual Aberdeen City Centre Traders’ Christmas Festival.
The 1984 festival was launched with a balloon release and – in the days before environmental awareness – there was amazement when one of the balloons ended up more than 1,000 miles away in Finland.
The balloon travelled across the North Sea and mountains of Norway before landing in the Finnish village of Kalajoki where it was found by Paul Haapanen.
He sent the balloon back to the Aberdeen shop inside a Finnish Christmas card, and in return, the city centre traders invited Mr Haapenen and his family to Aberdeen for the weekend.
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