Win £100 of Waitrose vouchers as supermarket is set to open enlarged Saffron Walden store next month
- Credit: Archant
After a multi-million pound refurbishment, Waitrose in Saffron Walden will finally unveil its new look to customers on Thursday, September 3, to coincide with the store’s 30th birthday. MICHAEL STEWARDtakes a nostalgic look at the life of the supermarket and speaks to some of the employees who opened the original store on November 5, 1985, and have stayed ever since.
It was the year the miners went back to work, Boris Becker won Wimbledon aged 17, and the first Live Aid made millions for charity, but the talk of Saffron Walden in 1985 surrounded a then little known supermarket being built on the site of the old pig market.
“You could say we opened with a bang,” says Malcolm Domb, branch manager, as he reflects on the events of 30 years ago. “There was a massive power cut in the road at about 4am in the morning and bang, everything went out. But being November 5, I suppose it was appropriate.”
Despite the inauspicious start, the power was eventually restored and the supermarket opened its doors to the waiting Saffron Walden public at 9am as planned.
Malcolm, 59, who was deputy manager at the time, left the store after five years to take up a managerial position at Blaby in Leicestershire, before returning to the Walden branch in 1995.
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“I was lucky enough that the opportunity arose to return here,” he said, “Saffron Walden is a lovely place and so it was an easy decision to come back as store manager.”
Anne Harris, 66, one of three employees who has worked at the branch continuously for the entire 30 years, remembers the anticipation of people in the town prior to the opening.
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“I hadn’t even been in a Waitrose before, so I think staff, as well as customers, were very excited to see what the store would be like.
“It really was the talk of the town and people were excited about everything from the car park to how it looked inside.”
The second member of the 30 club, Carolyn Brennan, 47, actually served the first customer in the branch on opening day.
“I had just turned 18 and I remember it being very busy. Everybody wanted to see what it looked like, they opened the doors and people just flocked straight in.”
When asked what the biggest change has been over the supermarket’s life, third 30-year servant Pat Storey is emphatic in her response.
“Without a doubt, it’s technology. I can remember punching everything in on the tills and writing the tickets by hand on the deli, so when they first told me I had to use a computer, I had a semi heart attack.
“But it has made our lives so much easier, particularly the contactless payment method, which can get the customers served much quicker and keeps everybody happy.”
The store has seen little in the way of drama over the years, although one incident does stick in Pat’s mind.
“We did have a bomb scare in the branch, I think it was a suspicious package and we all had to evacuate the building.
“We ended up down near the White Horse pub as we waited for the bomb disposal team.”
Although the building remained in one piece on that occasion, there have been significant changes to its layout throughout the new refurbishment process.
It is the first time a Waitrose store has stayed open during refurbishment work and two temporary stores were built in order for the supermarket to continue trading from the Hill Street site.
A free shuttle service was also provided for customers from Swan Meadow car park to the branch to minimise disruption.
Malcolm said: “It was important for us to maintain a presence in the town. With any building work there are always challenges but I think our customers appreciate what we’re doing and they’re so excited by the new project that they feel engaged and part of the process.
“It’s effectively a new store. The floor space has increased by a third and I think our customers will really be wowed by the new store and all its features.”
The new features include a three-storey car park with 292 spaces with disabled and parent/child parking bays, an in-store cafe, a concept bakery and toilets on-site.
Ann says that being part of the community and providing great customer service is what she has enjoyed most about working in the store.
“We’ve had customers who have been coming in for 30 years and I’ve seen their children grow up and I’m now seeing the next generation of children growing up. Waitrose’s priority has always been customer service and that remains today.”
The loyalty also runs deep for Pat, “Everyone always jokes that if they cut me I’d bleed Waitrose,” she laughs, “but it has been a great company to work for and honestly we’re like a big family here.
“The new store will be a huge asset to the town, because in my opinion, Waitrose is Saffron Walden.”
After 30 years service, and still 19 years from retirement, 47-year-old Carolyn says she isn’t considering a career change any time soon.
“I really can’t believe how quickly it has gone. It doesn’t seem like 30 years since we opened our doors.”