Two major Liverpool institutions in one day? Yes, it can be done. We’ll be visiting a few others before the day’s out too, so let’s go!
This is what me and Sarah call a ‘Saturday Ramble’ these days. A bit like the Friday Walks, but at some point Sarah usually does one of her ‘shopping exhibitions’ – as she will today. These rambles happen to give Sarah a deliberate day off from her funeral work. A lightly planned ramble where we go where our feet take us.
I don’t usually come to Abakhan with Sarah, as the glazed boredom of my catatonic stare often irritates her. But today she wants my opinions on the wool, so I’ve agreed to come in ‘for a bit.’
Selecting possibilities faster than my camera lens can capture.
And with the merest hint of ‘advice’ from me?
At this point my work here is done and I’m free to go while Sarah seriously considers buying the rest of the place. From the days when it was called ‘El Kilo’ it has always been one of her favourite shops. And by the time she leaves today she will utter the defining words:
‘Do you know, I think that’s now as good as Habi was?’
‘Habi’ of course being the lost and lamented haberdashery department that never truly crossed town when George Henry Lee mutated into John Lewis.
They explain that they’re living in Skelmersdale now but come originally from the Four Squares, Soho Street. A neighbourhood long gone now but which I remember from my early housing days. They are touched that I pronounce it properly, in the proper Liverpool way they say they haven’t heard for years. ‘Se-O Street.’ They go off to TJ’s, where we’ll be going if Sarah ever gets out of Abakhan.
Though they have shops elsewhere, and are about to have even more, TJ Hughes is a major Liverpool institution and a major part of all of our lives. So it’s surprising this blog has got to two and a half years old and not seriously visited TJ’s ’til today. I nearly went in last week, when, on my way to inspect the new Greatie I’d said:
“When I was a boy, in the 1960s, this was part of Liverpool City Centre. And visits to ‘town’ with my parents would always involve trundling between here and Lewis’s and Blackler’s. Then trundling back the other way if TJ’s up here had the right things at the best price, as they often did and still do.
This part of the city is the friendliest to people without much money to spare.”
Anyway, here we are. This will only be an initial visit though, because one day I’d love to come back and do a major piece about the story of TJ’s and its place in all of our hearts.
Which she pretty much does. She worked here in the 1980s, as a store designer, when TJ’s was linked to Owen Owen’s. The other great Liverpool Welsh chain of department stores. Almost the best thing about the job was her Staff Discount Card and the fact that most lunch times she could come down to the store and check for new stock.
Lorraine Clarke, the Store Manager comes to check what I’m up to and we get into a conversation about the blog. She’s very interested that I’ve written about the new Greatie and is keen to hear my opinions about it. I haven’t spoken to a single Liverpool person in the past week who isn’t keen and concerned about Greatie. It matters deeply to us all. As, of course, does TJ’s.
Telling her she would have ‘ripped her arms off’ to be the store manager of TJ’s.
There follows some deep discussion of the wonderment and culture of department stores and the history still evident in this one. Lorraine tells us they used to have a doctor and a dentist on site for staff and their surgeries are still upstairs somewhere ‘as if they’ve just left.’ There is also evidence of the dormitories TJ Hughes had built for the Welsh staff he’d bring in to run the shop in its early days.
One day I’d love to come back and get a look at these and tell the full story of this wonderful place, maybe with Lorraine’s help?
Before we go, and inevitably, we get to talking about the Christmas Grottos. TJ’s were the highlights of our childhoods. Lorraine is younger than me, so her memories start with the ‘Dancing Waters.’ Mine stretch back to ‘Pinky and Perky’ and ‘Sparky’s Magic Piano.’ Golden days, when TJ’s Grotto was a required visit.
I was there. And one of these days, I’ll be back.
Then it’s time for lunch. Time to introduce Sarah to the Liverpool Quaker’s Meeting House Café.
Though in the early days of ‘a sense of place’ we did a good deal of work at their previous Liverpool location in Paradise Street. And Sarah herself has also visited the Friends at Swarthmoor Hall in Cumbria, one of the places where Quakerism began.
The vegetarian café is a joint venture with social enterprise Blackburne House and has become my favourite lunch place in town these past few weeks.
Impressed by quiet style of the place, the quality and generosity of the food, and of course the warmth of the welcome.
After such a good lunch we need another walk round.
Sadly Christmas and Christmas shopping, which we both loathe, have begun here. But at least the decorations are tasteful and autumnal this year.
Or Rapid as it has been since the John Lewis move to Liverpool One.
And now? Well though now groaning with predictable Christmas tat, it’s still a good shop.
Still then a delight for department store fans such as Sarah. Not as delightful as TJ’s or Abakhan, of course, but then where is?
On the way home there is one more stop at a great Liverpool shop, Tasker’s on Wavertree Road. By now my always reluctant shopping muscles have entirely failed me and I don’t go inside or take any pictures.
A good day, a Saturday ramble, together through time.