You can forget Diagon Alley. Liverpool’s real magic shop was (and still is) T.J.Hughes. So yesterday was a black day indeed for the city’s retail heritage – as T.J’s said it was looking to appoint an administrator, placing 4,000 full and part time jobs in jeopardy at its 57 stores nationwide.
Habitat’s loss – it’s sad, but we knew, the moment it introduced its black resin chandeliers that the store had lost its way. T.J. Hughes? That’s something we’ll never be able to replace.
And, when you add it to the list that includes Blackers, Lewis’s and Owen Owen the loss is felt all the stronger. It’s like another piece of our DNA has been extracted, and replaced by some Monsanto-grown gene: and, slowly but surely, Liverpool’s living history dies at the feet of Tesco Metro.
I’m just about old enough to remember T.J. Hughes’ London Road store being the place to shop on a Saturday afternoon. I remember queuing in the snow one Christmas to catch Pinky and Perky putting on a show in the Grotto, and walking through the underground tunnel connecting the two stores: transformed into a Lapland labyrinth, a path to Santa’s door.
No-one queues to get into T.J.’s any more. And in the forty years since Pinky and Perky became streaky and gammon, the city has all but turned its back on London Road. And, with the opening of Liverpool ONE, this once great thoroughfare has become silted up and sidelined.
But the store remained a destination – and its canny buyers knew exactly how to lure punters up the steep, sex-shop lined street. A half price Retin-A Garnier set here, a 42 inch plasma for under £300 there.
You can forget squealing pigs. Saturdays in T.J.’s was, for our money, the best show in town. It was our show, and we were all the stars. Grandmas rummaging through flip-flops. Tiny rows of TV screens extolling the wonders of lint removers, egg choppers and salad tossers. Banked up rows of bean-bag lap-trays. Ramps, creaky stairs, the chatter of the tea and toast brigade, fuelling up before heading off to Bingo.
T.J’s was never going to relocate to Grosvenor’s vision of anytown UK. It was Liverpool. If I ever felt homesick when I’d moved to Manchester (it was just a phase, honestly) I’d immerse myself in Stretford’s T.J.’s for an hour or two and, amid the Farrah slacks and Fiorelli purses, the Tommy Hilfiger wallet sets and David Beckham body lube, I’d feel like the M62 had concertinaed back on itself, like some Inception outtake, and I’d be back home.
Is there room in retail for stores like T.J’s anymore? Of course there is – you’ve only got to look at the behemoth that is Wilko’s, and our home grown Home Bargains. But for all their cheap batteries and three-for-a-quid Wispas they’re joyless affairs.
They’re all about the end-of-line. T.J’s was more end of the pier. And, with the news that the venerable store has gone into receivership, it looks like it’s the end of the road too.
I’ll miss it if it goes, but you know what T.J.’s is like… Its administrators say it’s looking for a buyer? Let’s all shop there this Saturday. Let’s rummage through the lip gloss. Lets delve deep into the shimmering mountain of sequinned compact cases, and what’s the betting we’ll find one?