Increasing the number of self-service stores was a slow process. Post-war building restrictions meant that permission was usually only available to rebuild on bomb sites. These sites were often too small to be ideal, but stores were re-built with the new emphasis on technology and cleanliness.
The East Grinstead store featured prefabricated chilled counters and air-conditioned preparation rooms. Local residents were offered ‘behind the scenes’ tours and when the shop opened on 18th September 1951 the press described it as ‘the most modern hygienic food shop in the South of England, and possibly in the whole country’.
The first purpose built self-service store opened in Eastbourne in February 1952 and was followed in 1954 by a store in Southampton which featured the first self-service display of fresh meat.
New self-service stores were also built on the London County Council (LCC) estates at Grange Hill and Debden in Essex. By December 1955, Sainsbury’s had 11 self-service branches. By the end of 1959, a further 15 self-service branches had opened, including four in the new towns of Hemel Hempstead, Crawley, Harlow and Stevenage.
In 1955 the largest self-service shop in Europe was opened by Sainsbury’s in
Lewisham. The store had a sales area of 7,500 square feet and a glass-walled ventilated room for cutting and wrapping butter and other goods.