Published: 05:00, 01 January 2022
Chart the history of the supermarket and you trace the evolution of our shopping habits over the last 60 years.
From sites in the very heart of our high streets, to leading the charge to out-of-town developments, the supermarket has dictated change and, conversely, been forced to reflect it.
While less of us now want to do the 'big shop' once a week, we've seen pared down 'local' stores from the biggest names return to town centres.
And from cramped aisles to broad walkways, functional branding to carefully considered layouts designed to maximise our desire to spend, the supermarket has aimed to be at the cutting edge of the mass retail experience.
Not to mention providing employment for thousands of people both young and old over a number of generations.
None more so than Sainsbury's which for more than 150 years has been one of the sector's biggest names.
From its first store in London's Drury Lane in 1869, opened by James Sainsbury, it today boasts more than 1,400 nationwide – many of which are scattered across Kent.
Courtesy of The Sainsbury Archive, Museum of London Docklands, we're able to transport you back in time to take a look at how many stores in the county's major towns have changed over the decades. Not to mention the fashions of the shoppers who use frequently them or, for that matter, served behind the tills.
So let's start in Ashford – which showcases how the supermarket has evolved.
Its first branch opened at 18 High Street in 1934 – an era before self-service. Shoppers had to queue at each counter to be passed whatever it was they wanted, which meant a quick dash was out of the question.
You may wish to ponder that while chomping down on a Big Mac, as McDonald's now occupies the site.
By 1968, it moved into a more central position just up the road, in the building now long occupied by Boots.
It spent 10 years there before shifting into the back of the Park Mall shopping centre. It wasn't an architectural gem by today's standards. But if 'brutal urban' floats your boat, you'll probably have lapped it up.
For those of us who worked in the store in our youth in the early 1990s, those clip-on ties and brown overalls will live long in the memory of fashion faux pas.
In 2001, it closed the doors on that (Wilko is now in the site) and it put all its proverbial eggs in its giant out-of-town store off Simone Weil Avenue, which had opened in 1992.
Remember when Maidstone's The Mall was the Chequers Centre? Well done. But do you remember a time before that when it was the good old Stoneborough Centre? Go to the top of the class.
Which means you'll probably remember the Sainsbury's outlet which was in the shopping centre from 1976 until 2000, at which point it moved to the big newly-built site at Romney Place.
But as a special prize, do you remember when the supermarket had a store down Gabriel's Hill? It opened in 1962 and closed in 1976.
The site it occupied would later become the home of the much-missed Strawberry Moons nightclub.
If we take a quick drive up Blue Bell Hill from the County Town, 127 High Street in Chatham once was home to the supermarket, in what today is an Argos.
It opened in 1963 and closed in 1976 when the supermarket upped sticks and shifted into the Pentagon Centre, where, of course, it continues to this very day.
Moving west, we come to Gravesend where, between 1982 and 1994, the retail giant had a store at 12 St George's Square. In 1992 it opened a large out-of-town site in Northfleet where it continues to serve customers.
Continuing down the A2 and Dartford welcomed its first Sainsbury's store in 1975 when it opened in what was then known as the Arndale Centre.
It has subsequently become the Priory Centre. The store closed its doors in 2000 when it shifted a hop, skip and a jump away to its new store as the centre was expanded, where it remains.
Now here's a little game to play. When, nipping back down towards Sittingbourne, the town welcomed its store in the old Bell Shopping Centre in 1976.
The picture below shows the crowds gathering on opening day. And in what is surely something of a sign of the times, amid the queues, men are outnumbered by, let's be honest, at least 10 to one.
The store could also be accessed through the long-since shut Hulburds department store, which over the years has been The Summoner Wetherspoon pub and, more recently, a Kaspa's Desserts.
The Sainsbury's store in the centre continued to operate for 20 years before shutting in 1996 and shifting to a new superstore, where it stays today, off the Avenue of Remembrance.
Now let's head to Canterbury. Its existing store at Kingsmead opened for business in 1984 and attracted a big turnout when shoppers could first visit.
The chain also has a number of 'Local' outlets in the city centre, looking to capitalise on those shopping there – albeit much to the chagrin of other convenience stores.
Heading down to the coast, Folkestone has had its big out-of-town site at the Park Farm Retail Park since it opened in 1992.
But, unlike many others, it retained a town centre site too.
The Bouverie Road West site first opened in 1982. It's not a pretty building but it continues to be one of the chain's longest-surviving outlets in the county.
Prior to that, however, there were two other stores in the town – one of which was among the earliest branches to open in the county.
The outlet at 27 Sandgate Road first opened in 1909 and continued trading until 1970. The images of the store capture perfectly the enormous leaps and bounds supermarkets have taken over the century. The site is now occupied by Edinburgh Woollen Mill.
At that point, Sainsbury's opened in West Terrace - with John Sainsbury, now Lord Sainsbury, great-grandson of the chain's founder - welcoming shoppers on its first day. The store continued operating until 1982. McDonald's is now in that site.
Heading into Dover, the town had a central store at 74/79 High Street – first opening in 1970. Mr Sainsbury was there for the big day too.
It stretched along the road – the site today being occupied (or not as is the case with many) by a number of separate units.
Shoppers in Dover now have to travel to neighbouring Folkestone or Deal to reach the chain.
And finally, on this stroll down memory lane, let's head over to the west of the county.
Those in Tonbridge will not need reminding that since 1982 it's had a store in the Angel Centre which, for those with even longer memories, itself sits on the former Angel Ground, once home to Tonbridge FC.
But before that opened, it had one of the county's earliest stores at 96 High Street in January 1923. It operated there until closing its doors in 1969.
At which point, it opened a branch in Avebury Avenue, which gave way once the new superstore opened. It is now the home of PureGym.
Last, but not least, we come to Tunbridge Wells.
The spa town had its first Sainsbury's in 1903 – the earliest in the county – at 94 Mount Pleasant Road. It operated at the site until 1965 and has, since its departure, been butcher JC Rook and, currently, The Italian Shop.
In 1932, and no doubt reflecting the town's affluent nature, a second store was opened at 62 Mount Pleasant Road, halfway down the hill. It too operated until 1965.
At that point it opened the doors at 55a Calverley Road, a much larger store which would welcome shoppers until 1990. Today the site is occupied by Sussex Beds.
In 1990, Sainsbury's moved to its current home in Linden Park Road – close to the Pantiles.
And who knows, in 50 years time perhaps KentOnline will be running historic pictures of the branches we today consider at the cutting edge of technology and the retail experience?