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Lewis's to close

No reprieve in sight this time as exhibition and book on lost world of fifth floor takes on new relevance

Published on February 22nd 2010.


Lewis's to close

LIVERPOOL'S oldest department store is to close – and this time it looks like it's for good.

Lewis's must move out of Ranelagh Street by June, when its present lease expires, and around 300 staff will lose their jobs.

The building's owner, Merepark, says it plans to create a £160m Central Village around the store which will include new hotels, shops amd restaurants. They say they will keep the frontage, which includes the famous “Dickie Lewis” statue.

The news comes as, completely coincidentally, the Conservation Centre in Whitechapel prepares to stage a major new exhibition of photography about the fifth floor of the store, revealing a world that has been hidden since the early 1980s.

With its hair salon, cafeteria and restaurants, the top floor of the store was the epitome of style in the 1950s. Three decades later it closed to the public and it has been used for storage since then.

But just in the nick of time, as it turns out, local photographer Stephen King captured the faded glamour of this lost world, including many of the original features. A newly published book shows the stunning photography you can expect to see at the show.

Now largely empty, the floor was once a bustling hive of activity. In addition to stunning views of the interiors, the exhibition and book includes a series of portraits of current and ex-employees in their original place of work, with reminiscences of life at Lewis's during that era. Their presence injects life into the spectral setting of the now deserted floor.

Also included in the exhibition is an artist documentary filmed and produced by Jacqueline Passmore. The film examines the impact of Lewis's heyday through interviews with staff from the fifth floor.

The exhibition, which opens this Froday, has been developed by Neutral Spoon art project management, supported by The National Lottery through Arts Council England.

We have a copy of Lewis's Fifth Floor, A Department Story (Liverpool University Press, £19.95), SIGNED by Stephen King, which we were planning to give away in a competiiton this week anyway.

The timing's not great, so we're going to do it a bit differently and award it to the reader who sends us the best anecdote or memory of the store, or who tells us what they think Lewis's has meant to them or to the city.

You can leave comments below, or email editorial@liverpoolconfidential.co.ukNOSPAM and we'll pick a winner.

In the meantime, a full scale closing down programme will start tomorrow and it will only be a matter of weeks before the store, founded by David Lewis 154 years go closes its doors for the last time.

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24 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

PAUL WILLIAMSFebruary 22nd 2010.

Lewis's is still more classy than the overhyped Liverpool One non event. Who has agreed to this so called village?This is town and Lewis's is town! We already have two boarded up cinemas that should be reopened . It'll just be more glass fronted souless corporate buildings. Are there any people in the property development business with some taste? Just as well Venice hasn't been as abused as Liverpool and don't get me started on Mann Island. So they ran a competition for the design of the fourth 'grace'....pity they didn't run competition for the rest of the cheapo mess!

TourmanFebruary 22nd 2010.

The worlds first Christmas Grotto was in Lewis's, it was the idea of David Lewis and became so popular that stores worldwide copied the idea, another Liverpool first.

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2010.

The Lewis's in Liverpool is a separate company

Devout Beatles fan of BasingstokeFebruary 22nd 2010.

Such a shame for a place steeped in Beatles' and Liverpool folklore, where Paul McCartney himself once worked as a van assistant. Cynthia probably had her hair done there ready to meet John. Also the grand Lewis's statue a vocal point and meeting place. These nasty little developers must not be allowed to get their grubby little hands on Lewis's. Better to close the Reading branch of John Lewiis, and save the Liverpool branch that way.

John TiradeFebruary 22nd 2010.

I tried to buy Christmas presents in Lewis's but everything in there was crap. The toy department was empty. The furniture chintzy. So out of date. They should have got John Lewis, Debenhams or Selfridge's in there. Renshaw Street has become the new London Road.

John TiradeFebruary 22nd 2010.

The "new restaurants" are bound to be like those on Hardman Street, selling puke-fuel to drunken students.

Mike LeonardFebruary 22nd 2010.

It was the food hall for me. As 'starving' kids in the 60s we'd wander 'round looking for samples - usually gala pie cut into cubes. They sold cooked chicken cut off the bone. We couldn't afford the meat, but they sold the carcases dirt cheap, which we'd tale home and strip like a family of locusts! In the 80's I worked in town (I was still a scavenger) and used to buy off-cuts from the deli counter - again dirt cheap. The Polish kabanos was a delight (I now buy it in bulk from Makro). Their bread was the best. In the 90s we bought giant Chelsea buns and hand-sliced ham off the bone served by the old guy with the white gloves - pure theatre! Fond memories but sad about the job losses.

Lainey ShanksFebruary 22nd 2010.

i worked in Lewis's 79-87....what a great place. the staff were all pals. any excuse and there would be a party in Red Rose Restaurant on the 5th floor. there are a handful of staff who still work there from my era. Im glad Dicky Lewis will stay, everybody seemed to meet under there on a night out in the city. My late Aunty worked as waitress in the Red Rose in the 40s and 50s, she used to get marvellous tips from customers. its was deemed just as posh as The Adelphi in those days.I agree with Mike, the food hall was brill, and bread counter the best, with their jewish continental and plaited loaves.Long live Lewis's building.

LewisiteFebruary 22nd 2010.

Truth is, the place has been on a downward trajectory for 30-odd years. For all the nostalgia about a store that was the flagship of what was Britain's biggest provincial chain, shopper have been voting with their feet and parting with their money in Church Street for a while. John Lewis's move to Liverpool One and the opening of Debenhams were always going to kill Lewis's off. Sad, but the writing hass been on the wall for a while.There again, the Adelphi Hotel, as good a candidate for corporate euthanasia as one can imagine, survives. How curious.

ukmaggie45February 22nd 2010.

Devout Beatles fan, John Lewis in Liverpool was George Henry Lees as mentioned in another post above.I bought a Mary Quant dress in the Miss Selfridge shop in Lewis's back in 1967. Oh to return to the 60s! ;-)

peacefairyFebruary 22nd 2010.

Fond memories of buying my first 'bought dress' from Lewiss and then later on standing under Dickie Lewis with lots of others waiting for my date ,all of us with hopeful look in our eyes,some went home dissapointed Dickie saw it all, now he will have some tales to tell, and of course the grotto and father Christmas parading through town on opening day of the grotto, what a wonderful sight! we will sorely miss you lewiss

beverleyFebruary 22nd 2010.

very sad, dickie lewis' closing down i remember going when we were kids to see father christmas such a gorgeous building and in years to come the city will regret changing all these fab buildings to "modernise" our city liverpool is a fantastic city and its because off all the fantastic architecture we have and the city council seem adament on destroying it to make way for newer buidings! its a big shame :(

London RoadFebruary 22nd 2010.

The problem with this city Paul, is that nobody has got any vision. While the fireman Bradley and the glib dems AND the Trinity Mirror etc continue to perpetrate this idiotic notion that Liverpool is a major economic player in the world (eg the Shanghai nonsense) the longer the real possibilities elude us and the further into the silt this city sinks. Liverpool has many charms and I love it, but its perception of itself is completely unrealistic. I'd tell you what I would do to climb out of it, but, with al due respect to you, and none for our leadership, why the **** should I?

RaquelFebruary 22nd 2010.

Why don't they re-develop it into its original 1950's glory. Bring back the hair salons, cake bakers and vintage style - that would be a much better tourist attraction!

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2010.

I remember going to the restuarant with my father in 1956. A rare treat and a very splendid place. I was impressed when he asked for some pastries and the waitress brought a cake stand with 6 cakes. George Henrys Blacklers Coopers Reeces "the times they are a chnging" and not for the better.

Devout Beatles' fan of BasingstokeFebruary 22nd 2010.

Thanks for that, I stand corrected -albeit I'm seated corrected.Of course I naturally assumed that John Lewis was just abreviated to Lewis but obviously not. With Macca's obvious connection with store maybe he could be approached to save it, if he hasn't already been approached.

Victoria StreetFebruary 22nd 2010.

What restaurants and shops? Haven't we got some already?

Mike HomfrayFebruary 22nd 2010.

The sad thing is that the place has gone downhill fast over the past few years. I remember when I first moved here the food hall was great with an excellent deli counter. Now it sells baskets of tins at really inflated prices.

Val DuffinFebruary 22nd 2010.

Whilst working at Lewis's the number of customers who came in from far and wide came solely to view "the grand building" the christmas window displays and "dickie" Oh and they bought what was on Offers

Devout Lewis's FanFebruary 22nd 2010.

Nowt to do with Johns Lewis.

Michael WinnerFebruary 22nd 2010.

New restaurants? We were promised new restaurants in Liverpool One and all we seem to have got is a lot of chain junk food bars with neither tablecloths nor proper cutlery.

Rory TanianFebruary 22nd 2010.

I heard a rumour that the young Crown Prince Harpik worked briefly in the Lewis's warehouse on Upper Duke Street.

Mr E ShopperFebruary 22nd 2010.

Was sitting in the Caesar's Palace "restaurant" last week with my sister and a few others and we were looking at Lewis's opposite, some people in our party were surprised to hear it is one of my favourite shops. I wander round there every time I go to town and nearly always buy something. Unfortunately it's usually totally devoid of customers, even at Christmas so to all you moaners who say you'll miss the old place, I doubt you will. You're all too late. You didn't use it, you're going to lose it.

AnonymousFebruary 22nd 2010.

Wonder if we'll get (yet) another Tesco?Seems like they're trying to give us one each!

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