Why Did Gamages Close?

Gamages was an iconic department store located in Holborn, London that operated between 1878 and 1972. At its peak, Gamages was a thriving retail institution, especially renowned for its extensive toy and hardware departments. However, after over 90 successful years in business, Gamages ultimately closed its doors in 1972. What led to the demise of this beloved London shop?

A Store With Humble Beginnings

Gamages was founded in 1878 by Arthur Walter Gamage. Initially, Gamage ran the business together with a partner named Frank Spain. The store started small, operating out of a humble premises on High Holborn Street.

In its early days, Gamages predominantly sold general household goods and supplies. It was not until later on that the store expanded its range into toys and hardware items.

Relocating to Larger Premises

As business began to pick up, Gamages required more space. In 1903, the store relocated just down the road to larger premises at 230-246 High Holborn.

It was here that Gamages started to cement itself as a thriving retail enterprise. The company continued to grow its selection of merchandise, branching out into new departments.

By the 1920s, Gamages occupied a sizeable chunk of the block on High Holborn. The store had expanded via numerous extensions and buildings cobbled together. This gave Gamages a quirky, maze-like layout spread over various levels.

The “Toy Town” of London

It was during the first half of the 20th century that Gamages became particularly renowned for its toy department. With several floors dedicated to toys, Gamages was dubbed “Toy Town” in London.

The sheer scale and variety offered by the Gamages toy department was unrivalled by other stores at the time. It stocked everything from dolls and train sets to rocking horses and toy soldiers.

Families would make special trips to explore the toy floors at Gamages. For children, it was like stepping into a treasure trove of delights. The toy selection contributed greatly to the success and popularity of Gamages.

Top Choice for Hardware

In addition to toys, the other area where Gamages really made its name was in hardware. Amateur and professional builders alike frequently visited Gamages to purchase tools, timber, and building supplies.

Stocking big name brands like Stanley and Black & Decker, Gamages hardware department catered to all needs. You could buy anything from hammers and saws to ladders, paint, pipes, and even garden furniture.

For high quality hardware and tools, Gamages was a top choice destination in London. The impressive selection cemented Gamages as far more than just a standard department store.

A Store That Adapted With the Times

From its early beginnings selling household goods, Gamages consistently adapted and expanded its offerings in line with changing consumer demands.

In the late 1800s, it evolved to meet the growing middle class appetite for affordable toys and games. In the interwar period, the store capitalized on the home DIY trend to grow its hardware department exponentially.

Gamages success stemmed from identifying key shopping trends and aligning its merchandise accordingly. This ability to flex with the times helped sustain the company’s prosperity.

New Ownership in the 20th Century

After the founder’s death, Gamages remained an independent family-run business for several decades. However, in 1957 the company was acquired by Freshwater Group.

The new parent company helped to modernize Gamages, investing in upgrades to equipment and facilities. This allowed the store to stay competitive in the evolving postwar retail landscape.

In 1970, ownership transferred again – this time to property investment firm Sterling Guarantee Trust. It was under Sterling that the fate of Gamages would ultimately be sealed.

Expansion Outside of London

Seeking to expand the successful Gamages name, a second branch was opened in 1968 within the Liberty Shopping Centre in Romford, Essex.

However, this suburban locale did not prove to be a wise move. After failing to replicate the atmosphere and charm of the original London store, the Romford Gamages underperformed.

Just three years later in 1971, the Romford premises was sold off to rival British Home Stores. Closing this fledgling second location foreshadowed wider problems ahead for Gamages.

Falling Profits and Rising Rents

In the 1960s, Gamages profitability and foot traffic declined. Several factors were at play in the store’s dwindling fortunes.

Firstly, rising rents and business rates in central London heaped cost pressures onto Gamages. The dated, ramshackle nature of the building also meant heating, lighting and maintenance expenses were substantial.

Additionally, the narrow aisles and lack of modern amenities at Gamages made for an inconvenient shopping experience compared to glossier new department stores.

Gamages signature toy and hardware departments faced increasing competition from rivals too. Specialist toy shops were on the ascendance, while DIY chains like Woolworths expanded their ranges.

Redevelopment Looms Large

After acquiring Gamages in 1970, Sterling Guarantee Trust viewed the site as prime real estate for redevelopment rather than an ongoing retail concern.

With the leases on the various buildings forming the Gamages store expiring at different times, Sterling embarked on a plan to progressively close and flatten sections of Gamages for redevelopment.

The toy department was first to be shut down and demolished in 1971. Further closures followed until the entire Gamages store was permanently shuttered in May 1972 after trading for almost a century.

Gamages Lives on in Memory

With its demolition, Gamages faded into history. The iconic London store was mourned by generations of customers who had grown up browsing its wares over the decades.

Although Sterling originally earmarked the site for ambitious commercial and office space redevelopment, these plans never fully materialized. Today, the former location of Gamages is marked by a nondescript office building.

So while the physical Gamages is long gone, it endures nostalgically in the memory of Londoners. For many, Gamages epitomized the magic of childhood trips and the wonder of its jam-packed toy kingdom. Though the doors closed in 1972, Gamages lives on as an iconic piece of London retail history.


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