The death of a Reading institution

Jacksons_Department_Store,_Kings_Road,_Reading

My hometown of Reading is about to lose one of its most distinctive shop. The Jackson’s department store was recently used as a location for shooting an episode of Endeavour, the 1960s set Inspector Morse prequel. I can’t think of much that would need to change to make it work for the period. The Economist accurately describes Jackson’s like this:

[I]t would be hard to find a store more authentic than Jacksons, a 138-year-old emporium in Reading, west of London. The shop’s fittings—glass counters set before wooden shelves—belong to an era before stores let shoppers loose to examine merchandise for themselves. A system of pneumatic tubes whisks money from customers to a central cash office. Receipts are hand-written. Jacksons puts visitors in mind of “Are You Being Served?”, a 1970s sitcom that mocked a way of retailing that was outmoded even then. The staff take that as a compliment.

And is equally accurate on its problems:

Yet on Christmas Eve the store will close and its 60 employees, many of them part-time, will be out of a job. The Oracle, a shopping mall that opened in 1999, gradually sucked trade away from Jacksons’ end of the shopping district, says Brian Carter, who belongs to the fourth generation of family proprietors. Jacksons clung on, largely by outfitting successive cohorts of Reading school children. But that did not stop the greying of its customer base. Its premises are a hard-to-manage, multi-level labyrinth. Its old-fashioned approach to customer service is labour-intensive. The “coup de grâce”, says Mr Carter, was the news that the shop needs to replace its rotting roof for £60,000 ($98,000). An investor has bought the building.

I’m hugely affectionate towards Jacksons and am sorry to see it go. However, the last time I shopped there was six years ago: I needed a white bow tie for my sub fusc. That seems aptly old fashioned. I’m not unusual in this regard – in my nostalgia not in buying a white bow time which is very weird. Elsewhere in this week’s Economist it was noted that in general consumers “regret the decline of traditional family run businesses but increasingly shop in one-stop supermarkets and with online giants like Amazon.”

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