John Lewis

By Sew Review Team on

Tag: john lewis

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The first new brand this year is John Lewis, still known to many of its customers as Cole Brothers, this Sheffield landmark has a proud heritage, dating back to 1847.

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History of John Lews Brand

The Cole Brothers, John, Thomas and Skelton, sons of a shoemaker, were born respectively in 1814, 1824 and 1827. The two elder boys were both apprenticed to drapers and by 1847 felt they had enough experience to open their own business, at 4 Fargate. They described themselves as `Silk Mercers and Hosiers` and were soon joined by their younger sibling.

The business had expanded considerably, occupying premises in Fargate and Church Street, and the brothers had now become `Silk Mercers, Shawl, Mantle and Carpet Warehousemen, Bonnet Makers and Sewing Machine Agents`.

In 1869 rebuilding was begun and was finally completed in 1879. More adjacent property was acquired and rebuilt to match the new shop and two storeys were added to the central portion.

Between 1896 and 1902 all three brothers died. They had seen their draper`s shop develop into one of the foremost businesses in the city. `Cole`s Corner` had become a favourite meeting place and the building was one of Sheffield`s best known and well-loved landmarks. In 1898 the business was registered as a limited company and it was the next generation of Cole sons that took the enterprise into the new century.

In 1909 women were employed for the first time to work in the shop and in 1911 the first motor delivery van was acquired. Little is known about the effects of the First World War on the family or the business, but in 1918 sales topped £200,000 for the first time. By then the two `young Mr. Coles` were in their mid-sixties, and had in their turn become pillars of the local community.

In 1919 they sold the business to H. Gordon Selfridge, the American entrepreneur, who some ten years earlier had opened the successful department store in London`s Oxford Street, and Cole Brothers became part of the growing Selfridge Provincial Stores Group.

There are few records of the interwar years, except it may be safely assumed that Selfridge introduced the same promotional and advertising strategies that he employed in the other shops in his group. We do know, for example, that when Amy Johnson`s aeroplane, `Johnnie`, went on a tour of the country, it was at Cole Brothers that it was displayed in Sheffield.

In 1940 the Selfridge family decided to sell the SPS group to the John Lewis Partnership. The building came through the war unscathed and in the post-war years business began to pick up. Visiting Cole Brothers was considered to be `an occasion` and eating in Cole Brothers restaurant was a special treat.

Though the 50s were buoyant times, by 1960 it was clear that the old shop had to go and the Partnership decided to build a new shop on Barkers Pool, a derelict piece of land some 300 yards from Cole`s Corner. It opened on 17 September 1963.

The move from the old and well-loved building to the new purpose-built shop had been considered by many to be risky, but customers soon transferred their allegiance and flocked to the new shop.

Within ten years it became clear that the selling space was woefully inadequate. In 1974, to free up more space, the offices were moved across the road to accommodation in Barkers Pool House and in 1977 the Partnership acquired a shop in Cambridge Street. By the end of the `70s the interior of the shop was beginning to look dated and a massive refurbishment programme was begun.

John Lewis Sheffield

Sheffield was hit harder than most by the recession of the `80s. Out-of-town shopping offered strong competition and the building of the Supertram network made access to the city centre difficult, but Cole Brothers weathered the storm and in 1997 celebrated 150 years of trading and the best sales increase in 16 years.

Five years later, after lengthy consideration, the Partners at Cole Brothers decided to join most of the other department stores in the John Lewis group and take the name of the founder.

In 2012 John Lewis Sheffield will move to a new shop in the New Retail Quarter, reinforcing its strong connection with the city since 1940.

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