Architects, historians and conservationists have joined forces and penned an open letter, sent to The Star, calling for the building in Barker’s Pool to be preserved.
They want it listed to prevent the shop from being demolished following the closure of the John Lewis department store last August.
Since John Lewis moved out, with the loss of 299 jobs in Sheffield, the council has secured the building and commissioned surveys and investigative work on the site.
Works to remove asbestos and strip out the building will commence in the next few months.
The council has said it knows “how important this property is to the people of Sheffield” and said “this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape a key city centre location” but it has stated that demolition “is an option”.
In response, architects and members of numerous groups including Hallamshire Historic Buildings, Joined Up Heritage Sheffield, Twentieth Century Society and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, are campagning for the building to be listed.
Their open letter reads: “The former Cole Brothers/John Lewis store is historically and architecturally important.
“Coles is one of the best of Sheffield’s unique collection of department stores built in the aftermath of the Blitz, when the great architectural critic Nikolaus Pevsner said that “hardly another city of similar size has been as enterprising and enlightened”.
“Above all it embodies the memories and experiences of thousands of Sheffielders who shopped or sheltered there, a backdrop to generations of celebration and commemoration, built to respect in scale and proportion the War Memorial and City Hall.”
It continues: “Sheffield should be proud to have such a building. We might cautiously welcome the council’s invitation of expressions of interest in re-using it; but demolition is very much still on the table, as they seek a Certificate of Immunity from Listing, both acknowledging its historic potential and protecting their right to destroy it.”
The letter states: “No-one denies that Coles can be re-used. Our city’s response to retail sector upheaval should be a national flagship for department store re-use. This can be quick, climate-centric, less disruptive, and if necessary incremental, beating unsustainable demolition hands down.
“To compete and prosper Sheffield must have a strategy that recognises and celebrates its physical heritage, prioritising re-use to mitigate the reality of climate change. A strategy for heritage is also a strategy for the economy, the environment and the community. Heritage is woven into the very fabric of these: they cannot be separated.
“Listed buildings are occupied disproportionately by the most productive, creative and independent businesses: note the successful Castle House department store, housing Kommune foodhall, National Videogames Museum, Kollider workspaces and Wandisco’s UK HQ. They are vital to identity and belonging, health and wellbeing.
“We believe that Coles merits listing by Historic England for its history and architecture alone; but we also support listing as the most effective way to preserve these benefits. What we have is the foundation of what we can become.”