Belfast Co-op store comes tumbling down to make way for new campus
The last few walls of the famous Co-op store in Belfast are about to come down as it is demolished to make way for a new University of Ulster campus.
The store was a fixture of the Belfast landscape for more than 100 years in one form or other and was beloved by generations of families who shopped, ate, socialised and saw Santa in his famous grotto there.
It has taken weeks to bring down the concrete and steel structure which survived several bomb attacks but couldn’t fight the march of progress and a change in shopping habits.
Established in 1888, in 1910, the Co-operative society bought and converted the former Gallaher’s tobacco factory at York Street into its flagship store.
In the 1960s a huge expansion programme modernised the building, turning it into a complex that drew shoppers from far and wide, with a visit to the ‘Co’ a weekly ritual for thousands.
By the end of the decade the Co-op had almost 200,000 members, the country’s largest single dairy and was one of the largest coal distributors.
Martin Reid was one of the many thousands of children who passed through the ‘Co’ at Christmas over the years.
He said: “I have happy memories of being taken to see Santa at the Co when I was a child.
“Their Santa grotto was always wonderful. Happy days.”
In 1972, a massive bomb explosion and fire injured 25 people and caused around £10m worth of damage.
This led to plans for a new modern building on the site.
A week before its official opening in 1977 no less than three bombs went off in the new building and at the same time business went into decline with high interest rates and changes in consumer preference.
The store was now seen as being too remote from the main shopping area in the centre.
Competition from the newly-built CastleCourt complex was the final nail in the ‘Co’s’ coffin and it shut down for good in 1990.
The last store on the Co-op site was the final word in shopping when it was built. It had a multi-storey car park, a hairdressing and beauty salon, an air-conditioned coffee lounge, a credit transactions office and first aid room with a full-time nurse on duty. However, it suffered badly in the Troubles and in a harsher economic situation.