High Street supermarkets, Solihull

On 25th July 1961, a new Burton’s supermarket opened in High Street, Solihull in the building that is now occupied by the Paramo Lounge and the Works.

Described in the Solihull News, 26th August 1961, as being “the most up-to-date building in Solihull’s old world High Street,” the “colourful” supermarket met with a mixed reaction from shoppers, with letter-writers to the newspaper professing themselves “shocked.” One housewife described the colours of the shop front as “garish and said that the character of the High Street had now been ruined.

The supermarket was run by Joseph Burton & Sons Ltd, which was founded in Nottingham in 1858 as a high-class greengrocer’s. The Nottingham store became known for its flamboyant window displays but the Managing Director of the company, Mr A. V. Smith, who described Solihull as “a high class district” said:

I know that Solihull is a most attractive place, and if I were to move from my home in Nottingham there is no place where I would more like to live… We don’t think this store is flamboyant. It has a ‘quality street’ appearance with a frontage which can easily be kept clean. This is a new approach to shopping and we know the public appreciate it.

Solihull News, 26th August 1961

The plan for the new building in Solihull High Street was approved by Solihull Council in March 1960. An advert in the Birmingham Daily Post, 20th June 1961 offered a variety of vacancies for “outstandingly smart lady assistants” who were promised “full training, good pay, and happy working conditions in a bright go-ahead store.” Interested applicants for the jobs at “one of Britain’s most modern supermarkets” were invited to go along to the store in person the following day between 10am-5pm. Experienced butchers, greengrocers and “a lady clerk/cashier” were also invited to attend on the same day.

By the time of the opening of the Solihull store, Joseph Burton & Sons had become part of the Associated British Foods empire, run by Canadian entrepreneur Willard Garfield Weston (1898-1978). Garfield Weston opened 130 new stores in 1961, with Solihull’s Burton’s supermarket being one of them.

Following the opening of Burton’s, Solihull received two more planning applications in 1961 for supermarkets on the High Street – one of which was to replace the Gardener’s Arms public house. However, this seems not to have happened, as the Gardener’s Arms closed in 1971 and was rebuilt c.1973 as the Captain Locker.

Mr R. C. Allen, Chairman of Solihull Chamber of Trade, addressed the issue of supermarkets in a speech at Halesowen Chamber of Trade’s annual dinner in October 1961. Describing the “battle of the High Street” with the arrival of supermarkets and self-service stores, he said:

I think a large section of the public still prefers to shop in dignified circumstances where they can obtain variety and quality combined with personal service. I believe the public needs us and we need the support and goodwill of the public and of local authorities.

Birmingham Daily Post – Wednesday 1st November 1961

Burton’s supermarket in Solihull seems to have been rebranded as Fine Fare (pictured below) by November 1963. Fine Fare had been purchased by Willard Garfield Weston in 1955 and Associated British Foods, owners of Burton’s Supermarkets, increasingly developed its grocery business under the Fine Fare brand.

It seems to have re-opened on 10th March 1967 as “discount store” Cooper’s, after a four-day closure for alterations. Rather cheekily, “promotion men” from the store went into rival food stores, including Mac Fisheries, to leave pamphlets advertising the reopening. The manager of Mac Fisheries told the Birmingham Daily Post that he just followed the men around, gathered up the leaflets and destroyed them!

By 1978 the former Burton’s Supermarket premises at 44-48 High Street, Solihull had become Bejam Freezer Food Centre, which had been established in 1968. It seems that the Solihull store moved to the High Street from its previous premises at 18, Station Road, Solihull, pictured below.

18 Station Road, Solihull, c.1975

The High Street store continued to trade under the Bejam name until at least February 1989. Bejam was bought by its rival, Iceland, in January 1989 and a town centre plan of October 1990 shows the Solihull store listed as “Bejam (Iceland)”.

By November 1992 the premises had been divided into two shops – no. 44 was occupied by Kentucky Fried Chicken and no. 42 by Peter’s bookshop. By 1995, no. 44 had become Shoe Express (Stead & Simpson by 2012). It was vacant in 2017 but opened as the Paramo Lounge on 14th March 2018. No. 42 had become The Works by 1999.

Other supermarkets in Solihull town centre

A branch of Birmingham-based Barrow’s Stores opened at 60 Station Road, Solihull in 1959 but the self-service store closed on 4th February 1967 as a result of “strong competition from other supermarkets and from the town’s central shopping area.” It was described in the Birmingham Daily Post of 10th January 1967 as “being on the extremity of Solihull’s shopping centre.”

The Co-operative Society had premises on the corner of Mill Lane and the High Street from at least the 1940s until the Central Area redevelopment of the early 1960s that made way for Mell Square. The Co-op stores included butchery, greengrocery and grocery departments.

Mac Fisheries in High Street, Solihull was open by 1941, as it was advertising for a cashier in January 1941. Although initially a fishmonger’s, the company also dealt in poultry and game. In 1964, Mac Fisheries’ parent company – Unilever – took over Premier Supermarkets and stores were rebranded as Mac Fisheries Food Centres. There was a Premier supermarket trading in Solihull High Street in November 1963, which later became Mac Fisheries and then International Stores.

Mac Fisheries appears to have had two stores in the High Street as an article in the Birmingham Daily Post 22nd February 1962 refers to two premises – nos. 89 and 93 High Street, Solihull – being on lease to Mac Fisheries with freehold reversion in March 1967. The premises at no. 93 appears to have been the traditional fishmonger’s, also selling poultry and game.

The company was forced to deny rumours in 1966 that the High Street store was intending to close following the opening of Mell Square, which had a rival supermarket (Sainsbury’s).

In 1947, Solihull Council implemented a ban on general stores in the town centre selling intoxicating liquor for consumption off the premises. The off-licence sale of alcohol was limited to specialist wine shops until the ban was lifted by Licensing Justices on 8th February 1968, when they allowed an application by Mac Fisheries Supermarket to open a wine department. The supermarket’s counsel argued that a wine department would cater for the “humbler” purchaser, rather than the wine connoisseur.

By 1967, Mac Fisheries also had its own Elizabethan Room Restaurant on the first floor of the building, which could seat about 50 diners. It had closed by February 1976, when the restaurant – including fixtures, fittings and cutlery – was advertised by Mac Fisheries to let on a 12-year lease, with rent reviews in 1980 and 1984. By 1979, the restaurant had become India Cottage, 100 High Street, which was described in some adverts as being “above Macs Supermarket.” India Cottage was still operating when the building finally closed in 1998.

Mac Food Centres were sold to International Stores in April 1979, under which name the supermarket was still trading in 1983. By November 1989, the premises were occupied by Solihull Indoor Market, which closed on Christmas Eve 1998 in preparation for demolition works to begin in 1999 for the development of Touchwood shopping centre.

Solihull Indoor Market, c.1990 (from composite photos stuck onto card, hence the joins!)

Sainsbury’s, 5 Mell Square opened in summer 1966 but within three years the company was actively looking for new premises. In 1972, plans were announced for the demolition of several buildings in Poplar Road, including the old police station and the former Hobday’s store, to make way for the construction of a shopping precinct with eight stores and a two-storey car park above.

Sainsbury’s supermarket in Poplar Way opened on Tuesday 12th September 1978, replacing the smaller Sainsbury’s in Mell Square (which is now the site of W H Smith) and the Freezer Centre on the High Street.

By October 1982, nos. 70-74, High Street, Solihull was occupied by Kwik Save discount supermarket. This closed sometime between November 1993 and November 1994 and was replaced by Q S Clothing. By 2011 the building was occupied by Solihull College and by 2012 it was in use by Lend Lease. Since at least 2013 the premises have been occupied by Bonmarché.

The most recent supermarkets in the town centre are Waitrose (opened on the site of St Catherine’s Court, Homer Road on 23rd June 2016) and Aldi (opened on the site of the former Solihull Magistrates’ Court, Homer Road in 2018).

Have we missed out any supermarkets? If so, or if you have any further information about these town centre supermarkets, please let us know.

Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies

© Solihull Council, 2021.
You are welcome to link to this article, but if you wish to reproduce more than a short extract, please email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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