Nostalgia 1976: When six-day shopping changed face of our town centre
The traditional '˜late night shop' on a Thursday is a thing of the past as supermarkets today operate round the clock '“ and the notion of a half-day closing belongs to a previous generation.
It was 42 years ago this month that the concept of six-day trading came to Kirkcaldy’s High Street, but only after a lengthy debate.
Councillors were far from in agreement over the move, with some fearing it would hurt businesses outwith the town centre, and questioning the influence of the big chain stores.
The catalyst for change was the Shops Act which allowed traders to take a vote, and, if the majority agreed, then all stores in the area could open on a Wednesday afternoon.
The Fife Free Press of February 6, 1976 carried news of the decision to go ahead with the new initiative.
A survey of traders from Gas Wynd to The Path – pretty much the entire town centre – had produced a majority in favour of moving to six-day trading.
It took in a total of 196 traders, and, from 164 replies, no fewer than 106 – or 64 per cent – were in favour.
Under the act, where at least one half of the votes recorded by the occupiers of shops within the area are in favour, the local authority must make an order.
The matter then went to Kirkcaldy District Council’s environmental health committee where debate was lively.
The proposal was strongly criticised by Councillor John Kay, Kirkcaldy who claimed the committee had been conned.
Although the vote was conclusive for the central area, he said traders in the outer region were going to be affected
He foresaw “unfortunate consequences throughout the town” and contended that the vote was deliberately aimed to suit the interests of the big business people.
But councillors formally agreed a rather grandly titled Early Closing Day Exemption Order and talks were held with the Chamber of Commerce – then a more localised, and influential voice on matters relating to the town centre – over the starting date.
That came on March 15, 1976 when more than 20 town centre stores prepared to open on a Wednesday afternoon for the first time.
The list of those taking part is a rollcall of the names we have lost from the High Street – Arnotts, BHS, Ellena Mae, Freeman, Hardy and Willis, Ideal Homes, Littlewoods, Wm Low, Nairn Travel, Rutherford’s, Safeway, Saxone, Tesco, Thomson Bros and Trueform.
Only Boots, John Menzies, M&S, Carlton Bakery and Stuart’s are still open.
And the response from the public? Muted, to say the least.
The Fife Free Press reported: “There was at least a flicker of life in the ghost town.
“While there were hardly hordes of shoppers thronging the High Street, there was a perceptible difference in the volume of pedestrians and motorists.
“But some shops in the early part of the afternoon appeared as though staff were almost outnumbering customers.”
Feedback from traders was mixed.
Mr H. Smith, general manager at Tesco Ltd in the Mercat, said: “I set ourselves a figure which, in fact, we exceeded and trading compared well with a Tuesday afternoon, for example.”
Mr D Wheeler, manager of British Home stores said trading was fairly quiet, but he was optimistic about the future. – a view echoed by Ellena Mae, but Littlewoods was “pleasantly surprised” by the public reaction.
The manager, Mr K. Inglis, said: “Trading has been bad for the past few weeks due to the weather turning from spring back to winter, and I expected the High street to be deserted.
“I would describe Wednesday as a low key success, and once the holiday season arrives it will pick up further.
“After all, there is nothing more annoying than visiting a town to buy something and finding the shops shut. Six-day trading will prove a benefit all round.”
Mr A McGibbon, deputy manager of Woolworths was a fan of the change, adding: “We noticed husbands and wives spending a good deal of time looking around, almost like holidaymakers.
“I reckon they were probably small traders themselves who only have this one afternoon to do much shopping themselves.”