Co-operative Society stores began to appear in North Lanarkshire in the late 1800s. Selling goods at affordable prices and an opportunity to share in the profits made, they provided freedom from the tyranny of the company store.
The Co-op was a mutual society; most customers were members and received a dividend based on how much they spent in the shop. The divi was one of the most important Co-op benefits:
In those days the Co dispersed a great deal of profit in dividends to customers. The more you bought, the more your dividend went up and you could use to buy clothes or shoe
Mrs Dean, Motherwell
It was a vital source of extra money for working families struggling to make ends meet and was used at other times as a treat, cashed in at Christmas.
Find Everything You Need at the Co
The main branches operated grocers, dairies, drapers, hardware and butcher shops. Selling a wide variety of goods, you could also buy the latest fashions and labour saving devices. Women visited them on a daily basis to buy fresh provisions.
Mrs Hall was a regular customer at the Co-op in Muiryhall Street, Coatbridge:
There were a whole series of outlets; you had the grocers, the fish shop, the drapers, the outfitters and the furniture department, it was a very good complex…You had to put your book in the box for your turn and when you were called they wrote down all the messages you got and you only paid it weekly or fortnightly.
It was a great boom to people who were unemployed or struggling to make ends meet.
As the Central Store for the area shoppers could also browse the shoemaking, watchmaking and wireless departments, pick up supplies in the painting department and visit the hairdressers.
Every town and most villages in North Lanarkshire had a smaller Co-op branch and almost everyone shopped there. You could also visit their warehouse in Morrison Street in Glasgow where you could choose from an even wider selection of products.
Special Delivery Service
They also provided a delivery service to the more rural locations; fleshing, milk and grocery van men would deliver provisions by horse drawn cart. The main branches had stables onsite, including Coatbridge.
The Mini Market Takes Over
The 1950s onwards marked the gradual decline of the Co-op. They could not compete with the advent of the new self-service mini markets which offered a larger variety of goods, often at cheaper prices. Also, when the dividend got low and eventually disappeared, customers saw no profit in remaining loyal. Workers were now generally better off and if they needed credit they could get it through hire purchase in many other stores. The Co-op had turned into just another shop on the high street.