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Owen Owen was a Liverpool-based operator of department stores in the United Kingdom and Canada. Beginning with a drapery shop in Liverpool, a chain of department stores was built up, often by taking over rival retailers. The company remained under Owen family control until the 1980s, and the brand ceased to be used in 2007.
Owen Owen was born on 13 October 1847 at Cwmrhaeadr near Machynlleth at the westernmost tip of Montgomeryshire, Wales.His family were hill farmers. Welsh agriculture had prospered during the Napoleonic Wars when imports of food were restricted but, after the war, there was such a severe depression that in 1838 the farm which had been their home for generations had to be mortgaged and the following year sold. Owen Owen was the first child of his father's second wife, but she died after giving birth to six children when Owen Owen was only eight. His mother had a brother, Samuel, who needed help to run his draper's shop in Bath; so Owen Owen went to Bath and his uncle gave him both a home and an education. He was educated at the Wesleyan College, Taunton, and started working at his uncle's shop in 1860.
In 1868, at the age of 20, with some help from Uncle Samuel, Owen Owen opened his own draper's emporium at 121 London Road, Liverpool,close to where his father's brother, Robert, had had a shop at number 93. By 1873 Owen Owen had over 120 employees, many from Wales, and a quarter of an acre of floor space. Owen Owen was interested in his staff's well-being. Besides being the first employer in Liverpool to give staff a half day off each week, he also set up a trust fund for retired employees. In the 1880s he began investing in other enterprises including railways, and in 1889 became director of Evans & Owen Ltd in Bath, the shop started by his uncle. He moved to London in 1891, after marrying, but continued to manage the Liverpool store which became one of the largest stores in the north of England. He also invested in many other stores and estates.
In his private life he was an active supporter of many Welsh organisations. He died of cancer in London on 27 March 1910 at the age of 62.
The company effectively remained under family control until 1985.
Owen Owen opened a drapery shop at 121 London Road in Liverpool. Over the years the store expanded, but in the 1920s when the city's retail focus moved away from the London Road area, the Owen family lent the company the money to move to a better position on Clayton Square where a large purpose-built department store (originally designed as a luxury hotel) was erected. The company then purchased rival chain T J Hughes and moved that firm's Liverpool store into the empty London Road premises.
Owen Owen expanded by building a store in Coventry, which was bombed during World War II. After the war it continued to expand, purchasing G W Robinson in Canada and adding other stores to the UK portfolio, the Coventry store being rebuilt on a nearby site.
A subsidiary company, Plumb (Contract Furnishers and Shopfitters) Ltd., was created from its own shopfitting department and had offices at Bishop Street, Coventry and Kempston Street, Liverpool. By 1979 the business operated 19 department stores branded either Owen Owen or under their original name but taglined as an Owen Owen store. It also operated three T J Hughes stores in the UK, and seven G W Robinson stores in Canada.
In the 1980s the Owen family sold the business. T J Hughes was split off and G W Robinson sold. In 1991 the firm purchased several Lewis's stores from administration (not to be confused with John Lewis) and was known briefly under the business name of 'Lewis's Owen Owen', before being taken over by Philip Green in 1994.
In 1995 Green launched the brand Kid's HQ in four of his Lewis's and Owen Owen Stores. The company was then stripped of its assets, which included the closure of the flagship Liverpool branch of Owen Owen, and was cut from twelve stores to one, Lewis's of Liverpool, following the sale of many stores to other chains including Allders and Debenhams.
In early 2005, Philip Green sold his stake in the business to David Thompson who began a new phase of expansion at Owen Owen, acquiring Joplings and Robbs from the Merchant Retail Group and purchasing Esslemont & MacIntosh from the Esslemont family.The Owen Owen brand name was no longer used, but remained the name of the operating company.
On 28 February 2007 Owen Owen entered administration.The reason claimed for the company's demise was the disruption in Liverpool city centre caused by the Big Dig. The Esslemont & MacIntosh store at Aberdeen was closed on 5 May 2007. In the same month the Liverpool, Hexham and Sunderland stores were sold as a going concern to Vergo Retail Ltd., controlled by the previous owner of Owen Owen, David Thompson, and enabling the stores to continue to trade.
Other department stores
The trust fund continues as a registered charity, supporting those who were formerly employed by any company in the Owen Owen group, together with their spouses and dependents.
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