Remember the 80s? Things were simpler then. No really, they were. Happiness in the 80s was a ThunderCats bedspread, Hungry Hippos board game and, if you were lucky, a Sony Walkman or a Chopper.
Click on the Argos link below and you’ll reach a cleverly done image of an Argos catalogue where you can actually turn pages with a click.
Argos was the go-to shopping wise pre the Toys’R’Us era while real-time shopping was a trip to Woolies (FW Woolworth and co). Personally speaking I really miss C&A. A day trip to Oxford Street was something you really looked forward to as a child. I remember coming back to Surrey with a jean suit, a jacket and trousers with the jacket having a gold eagle on the back. You’d have lunched in a Wimpy (probably) or if still hungry, stopped off at The Little Chef in Hindhead on the way home. Or Bramshott Chase to be more exact though like everything else, it’s no longer.
Writing about these memories also brings into play the disturbing situation of the death of the high street. Bad enough when companies like C&A (and there’s more on them later on) decided to leave these shores but the advent of the hypermarket and then the internet with its online shopping option has meant that a lot of the household names have ceased to be, as dead as the parrot in that Python sketch.
Woolworths was great for Saturday morning pick’n’mix raids or tugging at a parent’s sleeve for a new football or board game. Or looking the through the out of chart singles rack to save money adding to your vinyl collection.
Home shopping catalogues were immensely popular and a way of getting what you wanted for Christmas earlier, at a higher price obviously with the payment terms and plans.
What inspired this post was reading a topic on Argos at AV Forums, an audio visual community of great standing. And seeing these quote from members:
Indeed. That Airfix glue got everywhere didn’t it.
Typical fodder for the 70s/80s preteen. Although the one above seems to be in Dutch or suchlike. Never mind, the Europeans were always a bit more liberal.
We can certainly laugh and even mock at seventies fashion with its tank tops, flared trousers and Y-fronts but at least the toys were somewhat inspirational with the likes of Subbuteo (discussed at length elsewhere on this blog) and Scalextric at the forefront of living room entertainment.
Toys of course were a different ball game to today’s Nintendo Switches and virtual reality options. But the computer revolution did see some early forms of electronic art. Here’s the first tablet I ever had.
Families in those days actually ate meals sitting round a table in contrast to these days when parents send their offsprings up to their room with their turkey twizzlers on a tray.
Post-dinner board games like Buckaroo, Kerplunk! and Mouse Trap were hugely popular while if you wanted to go solo, I always found Mastermind with those coloured pegs helped to pass a few hours.
Then our music was taped off the radio. Always beat me how it was apparently illegal to record the top forty yet everywhere sold you blank tapes in order to do it!
Cassette tapes came into being as a listening option in the eighties where Walkmans were in almost everyone’s possession pre the CD version.
But while we can reminisce and enthuse about eighties toys and games, we have to accept that in such a relatively short space of time, the whole shopping culture has seen a seismic shift in both how we buy and where we buy it. Sad but true.
And the story of C&A? Until I researched this, I had no idea that they were European in the first place.
In 1841, the two serious-minded brothers, still only in their early 20s and armed with a loan from their father, founded their own linen and cotton fabric business – C&A Brenninkmeijer – in the town of Sneek. Living above the stockroom, they served the local community, carrying their quality wares from farm to farm. Hardworking and principled, the young men earned reputations as trustworthy and reliable. Needing to establish a retail location in town, the first store was opened in 1860 – marking the beginning of C&A as we now know it. The rest, as they say, is history.
The advent of the sewing machine brought with it an era of ready-to-wear clothes, and C&A soon offered these in a range of different sizes. This concept proved extremely popular with customers. By the start of the 20th Century, the foundations had been laid for C&A to play a major role in making the latest fashions accessible and affordable.
The working and growing middle classes were demanding more choice and, using new production techniques and taking only a small profit per piece, C&A was able to offer ready-made fashion to a much larger proportion of the population who, until then, had not been able to afford it.
Innovation was relentless, and the company pioneered the use of advertising and introduced the customer-friendly ability to return goods. Even though the margins were small, volumes were high and profits were reinvested into the business, allowing it to grow.
It wasn’t long before the creative formula that was democratizing fashion in Holland started working just as well in Germany. A grand C&A store was opened on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz in 1911, launching C&A Germany in the process.
Creativity remained important and customers saw the introduction of innovations such as self-service, mechanical cash registers, escalators and all manner of modern convenience. And of course, always the greatest choice of fashion at unbeatable value.
The path of progress hasn’t always been smooth, however, and the company has faced many challenges over the years. After the Second World War, for instance, the focus was on rebuilding the business, which in Germany had been largely destroyed. Thankfully the post-war economic growth meant that recovery was swift, and building on its heritage of ingenuity, creativity and passion, C&A was able to grow to become one of Germany’s largest retailers.
A new store opened in nearby Leeuwarden in 1881, then another in Amsterdam in 1893. A second shop in Amsterdam followed in 1896.
By this point Clemens and August had passed the business on to the next generation, who now contributed their own entrepreneurial ideas, selling ready-made ladies’ coats at the cost of a worker’s average weekly wage. This may sound expensive today, but it was only a third of the price of the cheapest coat then sold by other shops.
Very good. C&A addressing options for the fuller figure. And while we miss the likes of C&A and Woolworths, I didn’t want to close without giving a nod to a couple of other memorable retro concerns…
These days its too easy to capture that moment by whipping out a smartphone from your pocket. Back in the eighties if you had a camera, you’d have to send the film away to someone like Supasnaps for your photos to be processed. Then they’d be sent back to you in one of these…
Heaven knows how you paid for them, maybe a postal order or cheque… certainly no PayPal available.
And Our Price.
Because while there was always HMV and independent record shops, that Our Price carrier bag and the store itself was a haven for vinyl both popular and independent (what we called indie or underground in those days of white label promos) so… yeah, Our Price!
The 70s and 80s were very different and were an amazing time because we had to make do with very basic entertainment.
And tell that to kids today and they won’t believe you.