Newcastle’s Co-op food hall to ‘cease trading’ on 31 December
Newcastle city centre’s Co-op supermarket is to close down this month, bringing to an end nearly a century-and-a-half of Co-operative presence in Newgate Street. Posters in the windows and instore – which I spotted while passing by yesterday – reveal that the store will ‘cease trading as a Co-operative’ at 6pm on New Year’s Eve (31 December).
The food hall is the last remaining part of the former Co-op department store, which closed in 2007, and there has been speculation about its long-term future ever since – both in terms of its competitive position and the expected redevelopment of the building in which it sits.
For many years, the Co-op was one of a handful of supermarkets in Newcastle city centre – alongside Marks & Spencer’s food hall and the now-demolished Safeway (previously Presto) in Clayton Street – and had the advantage of the biggest range and longest opening hours of the lot.
More recently, however, competition has intensified, with Waitrose opening in nearby Eldon Square and Tesco Metro taking a unit roughly where Safeway used to be in the redeveloped Eldon Square South. Reflecting the national trend of big grocers moving into convenience, the city has also seen a proliferation of smaller supermarkets, including two Sainsbury’s Locals (in nearby Gallowgate and at Central Station) and a Tesco Express (Eldon Garden), as well as a recently opened Londis Metro in Grainger Street.
While the environment around it has shifted, the Newgate Street Co-op has failed to keep up. Even two years ago, I described the rump supermarket as feeling “unloved and behind the times”, noting the “bored-looking staff, long queues (as usual), and numerous broken light fittings that create an overall feeling of gloom.”
Despite the apparent lack of investment or attention to detail inside the store, last year’s replacement of the old ‘Food Hall’ signs with ones bearing the new ‘Co-operative Food’ identity suggested that the Co-op might, in fact, be planning on staying around for a while. Indeed, even when long-awaited plans for the building’s re-use for retail, hotel and leisure were approved earlier this month, it was stated that the Co-op’s food store would be retained as part of the scheme, despite plans for a new (but much smaller) Co-operative Food store, in the old Envy unit in Market Street, having come to light a week earlier.
Nevertheless, the Co-op food hall’s surprise closure in Newgate Street is likely to facilitate the Redbox-designed plans to revamp the iconic building that it occupies. The shop’s strange position within the property – largely the result of having to screen it off from the abandoned department store and stair towers – would always have necessitated some reconfiguration and resulting disruption to business.
So, what of the redevelopment itself? First of all, it’s important to appreciate the extent and interest of the existing property. While the Grade II-Listed Art Deco section facing Newgate Street – built from 1931-32 to replace the original 1870s premises, and extended by three bays in 1959 – is the most familiar part of the old Co-op department store, there are also some noteworthy Grade II-Listed buildings around the corner in St Andrew’s Street.
As David Lovie notes in his useful (but now quite old) ‘The Buildings of Grainger Town’ book, these were built in 1902 as an extension to the original 1870s Co-op store, so are the oldest surviving part of the property. Happily, these will be given a new purpose as the entrance to the 231-bedroom Travelodge that is set to occupy the upper-floor space within the 150,000 sq ft scheme.
According to the useful project update on the architects’ website, a gym is expected to occupy the basement, while the ground floor will house six retail or restaurant units. Interestingly, the piece – which also assumed, at the time, that the Co-op supermarket would remain in place – states that “all tenants but one have already committed to the scheme”, which will no doubt prompt all sorts of speculation about who might occupy the space.
The property’s location next to The Gate leisure complex means that restaurants or bars are an obvious choice, but its position in relation to recently opened big-name stores - opposite Debenhams and New Look, and close to Next – makes fashion retail a possibility.
All in all, then, it’s difficult not to be positive about the plans for the property. A historic building is going to be brought back into use after five years of near-vacancy, while the promised ground-floor uses should help generate street-level activity and footfall in Newgate Street. Meanwhile, any loyal Co-op shoppers look set to be catered for by a small store elsewhere in the city centre.
For all that the present Co-op supermarket is unlikely to be widely missed, I hope that the rather clinical head-office posters announcing the store’s closure will be replaced in due course by something more bespoke. After all, when a business has traded from the same site since the 1870s – supported by generations of Newcastle families – shoppers surely deserve a warmer expression of gratitude than a passing ‘Thank you for your custom’.