Store Highlight: Croydon
First suburban branch
The company founder John James Sainsbury opened his first shop outside London at 6 (later 11) London Road, Croydon in 1882. The shop was converted into a ‘model branch’ with every modern convenience including good lighting, marble counters and colourful wall and floor tiles, which as well as being decorative were extremely hygienic. An 1894 advertisement for the shop describes the tremendous array of goods on offer: among the cheeses available were Stiltons (‘rich, ripe and blue’), Gorgonzolas ‘of the finest quality’, ‘gold medal’ Gruyere, ‘specially imported’ Canadian Cheddar and American Cheshire (‘pale and coloured’), Camembert, Neufchatel, Roquefort and ‘Port de Salut’. Sainsbury’s claimed to be ‘the only house in Surrey’ to stock so many cream cheeses, including Bondons, York Creams and Alpine Creams.
The first shop proved so popular that just two years later John James Sainsbury opened a pork butcher’s shop at 36 London Road, and in 1886 a specialist poultry and game shop at number 17.
First self-service food store in the UK
68 years later, in 1950, the original Croydon branch was completely refurbished in an experiment to provide the first purpose-designed self-service food store in the UK.
The branch at 9/11 London Road remained open throughout the alterations; several new features were introduced which would become standard in all new stores: fluorescent lighting, Perspex counters and display equipment and most importantly the introduction of refrigerated cabinets – these allowed perishable foods that had previously been kept on open counters to be kept chilled under a simple curved Perspex canopy. There were also ‘prams’, a primitive kind of shopping trolley consisting of a metal frame on wheels, on which two wire baskets could be placed.
Britain’s first decimal shop
The London Road branch was also used as a training shop for the conversion to decimalisation: from 10th February 1970 the store traded in decimal currency using plastic coins, and over 1500 key staff were trained to use the new money in preparation for ‘D-Day’, 15th February 1971, so that they could later instruct staff at their own branch.
Over 30,000 customers visited the new decimal shop during its 10 months of trading and on the last day a special demonstration was held for local pensioners and girls from Croydon High School. Each pensioner was given a pound to spend in the store and was allocated a schoolgirl to help with their shopping. Conversion tables were displayed prominently to reassure customers that Sainsbury’s prices had not risen as a result of decimalisation.