GEM SUPERCENTRE ,West Bridgford , Nottingham , opened 7th November 1964 .

In 1964 the UK’s first out of town shopping centre was opened at West Bridgford, Nottingham . I had an involvement with the store from its opening , starting off as a “Saturday boy” . My father was in charge of the building of the store and helped me to get the position !

Not only was it the first the very first out of town shopping centre in the country but also first to have late night opening ,first to have free parking , a petrol station , free bus , car wash, tyre fitting bay , travel agent , hair dressers, pram park etc etc.

Initially it just had late night opening on a Thursday and Friday till 8pm. They still maintained the local half day closing on a Wednesday ! Though later probably when ASDA took it over they went to being closed all day Monday . Sunday trading was still decades away !

OK I know the store was only a large windowless box but these are some images of the GEM operation in the U.S.A / Canada from 1961 , on which I am sure the GEM at West Bridgford was based .

Planning for West Bridgford was started in 1962 and the store opened in November 1964 .

The store featured in a Peston Goes Shopping BBC Documentary in 2013

Link here : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23900465

This vast new building boasted 110,000 sq ft (10,200 sq m) of floor space. It sold a spectacular array of groceries, hardware, furniture and clothes all under one roof, and there were parking spaces for 1,000 cars.

It boasted some 50 departments, including a pharmacy, sports goods, records, a restaurant, toys, a hairdresser, shoe repairs and carpets. Its stock and shop fittings were reportedly worth £700,000 – a huge figure at the time.

Developments like this would later be blamed for crushing independent traders, emptying out High Streets and imposing a stultifying homogeneity on the nation’s retail habits.

But at a time when most Britons did their shopping in the local grocer, and memories of wartime rationing were fresh, this huge vision of consumer abundance symbolised a new era of modern affluence to many.

On its opening weekend in November 1964, an estimated 30,000 people and 5,000 cars visited the store, causing traffic jams for miles around.

G.E.M. stood for Government Employees Mart .(or Market).

In the USA , GEM was operated on a membership basis .

To be able to shop there in the USA/CANADA you were supposed to be either employed by the Government , be in the armed forces or police etc. Though they had 34 stores in the USA and Canada they had 1 million members but by the mid 70s the entire chain had ceased trading .

GEM in the UK didn’t follow this idea and neither did they follow a deep discount method , so prices were much the same as in town and apart from the opening melee it wasn’t that successful . Hence ASDA taking it over in 1966 . By buying GEM it was estimated it gave ASDA a 5 year lead over other supermarket chains in out of town shopping .

My father was area manager responsible for the building of the GEM in 1964 , working for TURRIFF Construction of Warwick. . Here he can be seen on site with the skeleton of the old GEM / ASDA store in the background (not sure if the guy on the plank in the bottom left pic would have passed Health and Safety today !) :

Site manager and area manager Mr.F.W.Wilson working for Turriff Construction on the building of the GEM Store at West Bridgford in the site office in autumn 1964 .

Newspaper story of the opening in 1964

Opening day scenes within the store in November 1964

The Griddle an American style restaurant way ahead of its time , complete with “island” bar seating around the servery .

A few more pics of GEM at West Bridgford from the opening feature in November 1964 ,starting with a glimpse of the motor accessories at the bottom of the first image .

I remember selling lots of nodding head dogs for the back parcel shelf .That brings back another memory of Desmo wing mirrors ……another popular seller ! I guess a lot of cars didn’t have wing mirrors as standard in those days .

Even car tyres were sold from the MOTOR ACCESSORY department . At the rear of the store was a bespoke tyre fitting bay . Until taken over by ASDA the motor accessory department was run by LEX GARAGES of London . The car accessory section was the first section along with the grocery department (Allied Suppliers) to be taken over by ASDA .

Alan Bradford who was the overall general store manager of GEM at the beginning .

A later picture showing a smaller GEM sign over the front entrance .I believe the local council objected to the previous larger sign that projected above the roof line .

The Asquith Brothers, who were running a successful supermarket business known as Asda–Queens , created from a merger with Associated Dairies, hence the name – took over the lease and aided by the abolition of retail price regulations, began offering cut-price goods.

The effect was startling. Within six months Asda had increased GEM’s £6,000 per week sales to around £60,000 per week.

West Bridgford proved to be a winning formula which was soon repeated all over the country.

The GEM sign replaced by the ASDA LOGO

Much later from the ASDA internal newspaper of 1977 of the West Bridgford store ,the only ASDA at the time in Nottingham . A closeup of the checkout operators top and the full double page below it .

Some of the hard goods staff at ASDA IN 1977 .Two signs above the staff are for Qualcast Suffolk COLT and Suffolk Punch petrol lawn mowers showing the breadth of stock sold in the late 1970s .

ASDA STORE MANAGEMENT IN 1977 .

Members of the shoe department on a night out in the 1970s

The old GEM store taken over by ASDA was replaced with a new ASDA store within the same site in 1999 .

1 thought on “GEM SUPERCENTRE ,West Bridgford , Nottingham , opened 7th November 1964 .

  1. Pingback: Queens and GEM: Building Asda, 1965-1970 | Building Our Past

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