Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Shoppers' Paradise


Do you ever suddenly notice something that's been staring you in the face for years but has hitherto passsed you by?

Then you'll know what I mean when I say British Homes Stores, or BHS as it's called today.

I drove by one on Oxford Street this mornning, as I've done most mornings for the past four years. I assume it's been there since time immemorial, seeing off the likes of Bourne and Hollingsworth, Swan and Edgar and all those other long-lost high street legends, but I can honestly say I've never noticed it.

There used to be one in Southampton, our nearest biggest town when I was growing up, and it always seemed reallly bland and functional. There was a food hall and it seemed almost Eastern Bloc in its decoration and its fare. Sort of pale grey everything, including the bacon.

Its saving grace was the cafeteria upstairs, which did a nice line in shepherd's pie and chips, lasagna and chips, 'curry and rice', etc. We often would go of a Saturday lunchime after shopping. Even as a student it was on the map for cheap eats.

I wonder if they still do food? Peering through the window from the safety of my car, all I could see were plain clothes and dated housewares. I think I might be depressed if I ever had to shop there. In fact, it doesn't even occur to me as an option.
So if I'm not looking - and I'll admit I'm not the target market, so this may be irrelavent - who is?

Is this one of those brands that needs a reposition and a refresh? Someone needs to come in and turn it on its head, like they do with other places that are hurtling down the dumper. I say this, though for all I know it's in rude health. Nevertheless, it's still got frumpy written through it like a stick of rock.

Like C&A, I feel it's not long for this world.

13 comments:

Clair said...

BhS is a big success, apparently, and is making loads for tax exile Philip Green. Their clothes are, undoubtedly, shit, but their house stuff in the Oxford Street branch is really, really fantastic, and I bet wouldn't look out of place chez F-C.

I remember the food hall, but ours was quite posh, with a deli counter - we liked the cafe too, but my favourite was always Littlewoods' steak pie, chips and gravy, washed down with orange squash from one of those big things with a paddle and three plastic oranges in.

chris said...

I remember Tesco Home and Wear.

When I lived in Teddington a few years back, the Tesco there had possibly the last remaining Home and Wear department in Britain - it still had the classic red typewriter livery everywhere, and huge soft-focus photos of a family circa 1979 on the walls and pillars. You had to go up an escalator to get to it. There's a Fitness First in its place now.

I also remember when Timothy Whites became Boots Cookshop.

Planet Mondo said...

C and A are still alive and well in Belgium! I saw one in Brugge a couple of years ago.

http://www.c-en-a.be/stores/detail.php/512

Five-Centres said...

C&A are Dutch though, PM, so no doubt they rule Benelux.

A Kitten in a Brandy Glass said...

When I was little, I thought BHS in Sunderland was a top spot of eating out. My favourite was sausage and chips (much nicer than chips in our house, which were always undercooked, bah) and they also had an exciting range of fizzy drinks including lime soda and raspberry soda. They had special plates for children, too. They still do have cafes in them, but you wouldn't want to go there. Stuffed full of pushchairs and no one clearing the dirty plates away, that's what the one in Walthamstow is like.

Nowadays, BHS is grim for clothes unless you are over 60, but as Clair points out, some of their home stuff is decent, so it can be handy if you need new pillowcases or something.

A couple of years ago I saw a branch of BHS (I think it may have been in Canterbury?) that still had its old-fashioned "British Home Stores" sixties-style lettering outside. Retro-typography, I love it...

Matthew Rudd said...

The branch of BHS in Hull is something of a local legend, as it has the huge port of Hull logo emblazoned in concrete on the side. Like the store, it is old-fashioned (well, historic - the materials and method used is certainly old-fashioned) but it looks fantastic.

This BHS was the first and only place I ever got lost as a child. It was the usual family Saturday wander around town routine, with my mum organising and my dad, brother and I feeling thoroughly bored. I went for a wander round BHS, couldn't find the family and so asked for an assistant's help and ended up standing up on the Enquiries desk (gaaaah....) while some daffy lass with a microphone shouted "Is there a Mr and Mrs Rudd in the store? Mr and Mrs Rudd please!"

BHS is somewhere I've occasionally wandered into - apeing the previous generation, as a reluctant companion for the Natural Blonde - but this is restricted to Christmas or young newphew's birthday times as the kids' clothes there are very good. A friend of the NB works there too, which means much gasbagging from them and bored waiting from me - again apeing the antics the woman who dragged me round 30 years ago.

Ishouldbeworking said...

That particular stretch of Oxford Street where BHS resides is the most expensive retail site in the entire country, no word of a lie. So they can't be doing that badly.

Planet Mondo said...

Co-op department stores where everywhere until the mid seventies. I thought they had died out (and been buried by Co-op Funeral Services), but seem to be marching on in the BBC 'Look East' region
http://www.colchester.coop/data/usercontentroot/incs/deptstores/

Bright Ambassador said...

My cousin used to be quite important in the whole BHS set-up, he got us a shedload of discount on bedding once. He lives in Australia now.

Five-Centres said...

Isn't it nice that - love it or loathe it - everyone's got a BHS memory of sorts.

Valentine Suicide said...

I bought something in BHS late last year. I shan't tell you what..

Al McGregor said...

My mother swears by BHS towels - we get a new selection every visit!

Roman Empress said...

I went in said same store just last week to buy some duck down pillows. I was thinking then how I didn't feel this store was long for this world. It's great for homeware. The clothes are for oldies, I mean beyond 70. They do nice cappucinos in there though.

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