As supermarket chains have extended, the Co-operative Societies have become less important, but once the Co-op was the most important store in every northern village and town. Those using the stores became members of the society, and these members were paid a dividend. Even now most older women will remember either their own or their mother's dividend number, as it was important to give this to staff on every visit to the store. This photograph shows the old store before the fire. The Birtley Co-operative Society began 1861, and had premises first in Mount Pleasant, then in Durham Road, then from 1885 in large premises at Harras Bank. There was a disastrous fire at this store on Christmas morning 1900, and the store eventually re-opened in new permanent premises on Durham Road.