Bite-size Histories: Lewis's of Liverpool The Story of an Iconic Store

When the receivers were called in to the owners of Lewis’s of Liverpool in early 2010, it marked the beginning of the end in the slow demise of the iconic and much loved department store. But it wasn’t the first time in recent years that Lewis’s had hit trouble, as the company went into administration in 1991, only to suffer the indignity of being taken over by its century old rivals Owen Owen. The business limped on through a variety of re-launches and attempts at modernisation, but after 154 years of trading, Lewis’s closed its doors for the final time on 29 May 2010. Since then, the building has been gutted and is now an integral part of a new development project, the Central Village, which also incorporates the adjacent site of Central Station, turning the area into seven-acre complex comprising retail, leisure, and residential facilities. A far cry from the vision of founder David Lewis, but one he may well have embraced to take the store into a new century with a modern outlook.

Lewis’s Department Store was established as far back as 1856, when David Lewis founded his small clothing shop in 44 Ranelagh Street, and by his death in 1885 it had become the largest department store in Liverpool. David Levy, as he was originally known, was born in London in 1823, the son of Wolfe Levy, an immigrant Jewish merchant from Germany. At fifteen, David moved to Liverpool in 1839, sent by his father to take up an apprenticeship with the tailoring firm of Benjamin Hyam & Company, and within 18 months he was manager of the Liverpool branch. He Anglicised his name from Levy to Lewis, and shortly after he was trusted with opening new branches in Scotland and Ireland, while supervising existing branches. His home was in heart of Chinatown in 55 Kent Street, and by 1851 it had evolved into a large lodging house, where he had given accommodation to several of his staff of ‘draper’s assistants’.

Five years later in 1856, at the age of thirty-two, he had decided to strike out on his own and took premises in 44 Ranelagh Street, Liverpool, where he opened his Gent’s Tailoring Shop, selling men’s and boy’s clothing, most of which were made in his own workshop. This first shop was quite small at only 24 feet long with a single entrance onto the main street, and with his slogan ‘Lewis’s are the Friends of the People’ he set out to forge a good relationship with his customers, mainly the working class, for whom he was producing top quality ready-made goods.

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The fascinating history of Lewis's department store and the memories of the staff and customers are featured in Tales from the 'Pool A Collection of Liverpool Stories.

To read more the book is available to purchase here