It has been almost five years since one of Greater Manchester’s most iconic independent shops closed its doors for good.
Prestons of Bolton – often known as the ‘Diamond Centre of the North’ – had been trading for over 150 years before it was finally forced into closure.
The huge store, located in the centre of town, had been a seemingly permanent fixture in Bolton since the late 1860s, but became yet another casualty of shifting high street trends.
It was a particularly hard blow to the borough’s high street as it came right on the heels of the announcement that the huge Beales department store – formerly known as Whitakers – was also set to close.
Whitakers boasted a similarly long lifespan – having been first opened in Bolton in 1829 – but also fell victim changing shopper habits.
The first Prestons of Bolton opened 40 years later in 1869, founded by goldsmith James Preston.
The business was inherited by James’ niece, Gertrude Duckworth, in 1905 and the store moved to its permanent four-storey home on Deansgate in 1913.
It was the only jewellery store outside London to trade on four floors – featuring what was, back then, the huge novelty of a customer lift.
Prestons continued to grow during the early 20th Century and, under the management of Gertrude’s grandson, Gordon, it became the biggest seller of Omega watches in the country. It was Omega who inspired Prestons’ design in the 1960s, with the building’s arcade entrance memorably shaped like an Omega symbol.
By the 1970s, on an average Saturday, 40 engagement rings were sold and, in one record Saturday in 1976, 168 wedding rings were purchased.
The shop was also seen regularly on television, with adverts on national channels showing off the building’s glitzy interior and claiming ‘It’s always worth a journey to the Diamond Centre of the North’.
But, by 2016, the store was struggling to cope and was experiencing the same loss of footfall as many other retail businesses across the country.
The Bolton store, along with four others across the country, could no longer continue to trade and shut its doors, leaving Prestons with branches in Guildford, Leeds and Wilmslow and the Prestons Diamonds website.
Now, the iconic Bolton building where the business made its name is up for sale, with a guide price of £695,000.
Sue Meade, who managed the Deansgate store 20 years before its closure, told the M.E.N. on its last day: “Prestons of Bolton is one of the longest-standing businesses in Bolton and sadly it has succumbed to the decline of the high street.
“It’s not a decision we have taken lightly, the store has always competed with other high street retailers and the internet, but sadly it’s no longer possible to continue trading from the Bolton store.”
Following the closure of Prestons and Beales, Bolton has been thinking big in a bid to breathe life back into its town centre.
The borough’s main high street is among a number of areas in the town which will be revamped under £250m regeneration plans.
Coun Martyn Cox, Bolton council’s cabinet member for regeneration, told the M.E.N. that the makeup of the town centre would need to change.
He said: “When things are expanding so quickly, like retail did in the 80s and 90s, nobody can imagine they will ever contract.
“What we’ve seen is that growth going into reverse. I don’t think anybody could have predicted that in the 90s.
“When people ask what’s happened to Bolton town centre I point out that the Trafford Centre went bust not that long ago. I think Bolton and other towns across the North West are struggling for the same reasons, and that’s to do with retail trends changing.”
Explaining how the town centre could look in the future, Coun Cox added: “You have to imagine what the town centre could be and part of that will be going back.
“People lived there before the retail boom and, of course, there’s still a lot of things to do that you can’t do online – you can’t have your hair cut online – and it will be those businesses that are there.
“That experience is going to be what town centres are all about, the ones that do that best will be the ones that survive and there’s huge plans for Bolton that we’re going to start seeing soon.”