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Bye, bye Boots. How has Ipswich’s Buttermarket changed over the years?

PUBLISHED: 11:30 07 February 2020

The centre cost £65 million to build and shoppers queued to get in on opening day. Picture: ARCHANT

The centre cost £65 million to build and shoppers queued to get in on opening day. Picture: ARCHANT

Archant

The looming closure of the last original store in the Buttermarket Centre in Ipswich has prompted Paul Geater – who covered its opening in 1992 – to look back at the business that have come and gone there over the last 28 years.

When the centre opened in 1992,  Owen Owen and C&A were the anchor stores. Picture: ARCHANTWhen the centre opened in 1992, Owen Owen and C&A were the anchor stores. Picture: ARCHANT

So what was on offer at Ipswich's shiny new shopping centre in 1992 and how has it changed today?

Owen Owen: The "anchor" department store built over four storeys was the big attraction when the Buttermarket Centre opened. It was a Liverpool company and was seen as a modern twist on a traditional department store.

Three years later the company was bought by Philip Green and a number of stores, including Ipswich, was sold to Croydon-based chain Allders.

The Ipswich store was always worth looking around, but it seemed to be smaller and more expensive than Debenhams or the Co-op in Carr Street. It had a very good restaurant during both its Owen Owen and Allders days - but in all honesty I never came across anyone who bought much there!

Hundreds of shoppers lined the balconies to mark the official opening of the shopping centre back in Ocotber 1992. Picture: ARCHANTHundreds of shoppers lined the balconies to mark the official opening of the shopping centre back in Ocotber 1992. Picture: ARCHANT

Allders as a company went into administration in 2004 and while its Croydon flagship remained open until 2013 the Ipswich store shut in 2005.

C&A: For years this was a popular store on Upper Brook Street (where Wilkinson's is now) before moving into the Buttermarket Centre. This was THE place for men to buy cheap, shiny suits (Man at C&A) and for women to buy inexpensive clothes for either the workplace or casualwear.

More: Boots to quit the Buttermarket

The Ipswich store was always busy but the company shocked the retail world in 2000 when it announced it was pulling out of the UK and the Buttermarket store closed its doors in 2001. The company itself is still very much alive - anyone who goes on a city break in Europe is likely to come across a store.

Andy's Records: The only serious rival to independent Parrot (later Rex) Records in Ipswich. This East Anglian chain was an absolutely must visit for anyone in love with music. It moved into the Buttermarket Centre from St Nicholas Street and those two stores are almost single-handedly responsible for my still-large CD collection.

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Tragically the growth of online music lead to the demise of Andy's and it closed its doors in 2003. I've still got CDs in my collection with its "closing down sale" stickers on them!

The food court: A great place for families. The kids could have their choice from Burger King, dad could pretend to be healthy with a chilli from the Potato Bakehouse and mum could have a sandwich from the patisserie and they could all sit at the same table.

However surprisingly this never seemed to get that full. It closed in 2008 and although it did reopen briefly a couple of years later, its demise took much of the heart out of the shopping centre.

Over the years there were a succession of new stores opening and closing in the centre. Laura Ashley took over the upper floor of the C&A. TJ Hughes took over two storeys of the old department store before that chain went into administration in 2011.

TK Maxx came into the new unit created over the middle of the upper floor in the early 2000s before moving down to the ground floor of the former department store in 2016.

So is the centre better today?

Between 2016 and 2017 the Buttermarket was totally transformed with the greatest change being the conversion of most of the old department store into the Empire Cinema. The former food court is now a gym and a selection of family-friendly chain restaurants have moved in.

The development of a new multiplex cinema in the Buttermarket has split the town's film fans. They are now split into Empire or Cineworld fans - but both seem to be attracting audiences and cinema-going now seems more common than at any time since the 1950s.

The restaurant offer in the centre also seems to have gone down well with the Japanese-themed Wagamama restaurant joined by Byron Burgers, Prezzo, Coast to Coast and Cosy Club. There's even a bowling and gaming centre to keep people entertained.

That has all extended the appeal of the centre - it is no longer a nine to five shopping centre. And more work is being carried out.

The St Stephen's entrance was transformed when the centre was redesigned four years ago. Now attention has been turned to the other entrance, into the Butter Market Street.

The Boots departure may be the last link with the Buttermarket's earliest years but the centre still has a strong future ahead of it.


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