I have very vivid memories of the dreaded clothes shopping trip when I was growing up. If either my sister or myself needed new clothes for any reason (e.g. new school uniform, grown out of old clothes, needed something for a special occasion) then the shops in our local town were usually next to useless, so the weekend meant a trip to the next biggest town about 15 miles away.
I think we loved and hated those trips in equal measure. Of course there were the good shops (i.e. toy shops and for me, computer game shops) that we got to look around as well, but the biggest part of the trip was going round the various clothes shops, which at that time usually included a visit to C&A.
C&A was a huge shop selling clothes for every possible member of the family, from babies through to grandparents, so it always seemed an extra long trawl as you had to negotiate the racks and racks of women’s clothes, up the escalator to get to the children’s clothes.
Then we’d try to find something both ourselves and our parents liked, and which the shop also had in the correct size, then go and try them on (hopefully in the changing rooms, though there was the odd indignity of having to try something on in the shop itself) before then taking the items to the till to pay and have the giant security discs removed.
A clothes shopping trip that didn’t included a trip to C&A’s therefore often felt like something was missing, so when the chain disappeared from the UK high street it felt a little bit sad, a bit like when Woolworths ceased trading in more recent times.
The last UK branch of C&A closed in 2001, and as far as I was concerned that was that, so I was slightly surprised when I happened to go to Germany and discovered C&A was still a going concern. Indeed, they are still trading throughout most of mainland Europe.
C&A was originally formed in 1841 by brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer (hmm, wonder where the C&A name came from then) as a Dutch textiles company. The first UK store opened in 1922, and the chain became known for their good quality but budget clothing ranges being sold in generally very large town centre shops.
So why did the company leave the UK? Well, they started to get squeezed out of the market, with the rise of new out of town clothes stores such as Matalan, and due to supermarkets such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s stocking a wider range of similar types of clothing in their stores. The costs of running town centre shops meant C&A couldn’t compete, so it was either withdraw or invest in further out of town shops themselves. In the end the first option was more cost effective.
If your interested though, take a look at the C&A website for their current range of clothing. You’ll see that they still have the same old logo, which used to adorn the push panels of the doors in most of the branches.