Flashback to December 2008

2008

Shoppers in Woolworths in Whitchurch browsing for last minute bargains.
Shoppers in Woolworths in Whitchurch browsing for last minute bargains.

Goodbye, and farewell forever to Woolworths.

The High Street has never been the same since. Stores come and go, but Woolworths was a household name, a brand steeped in history, and a fixture at the heart of the shopping scene in British towns and cities.

It sold everything, from pick and mix sweets, to clothes, chart singles, electrical goods... you name it.

Its 1970s advertising jingle "That's the wonder of Woolworths," is still fondly remembered by folk of a certain age.

So it was a particular shock when Woolworths branches closed en masse over the festive season of 2008 and into the first handful of days of the New Year, in a retail blow which came to symbolise the credit crunch.

Not long now. The signs say it all on the Newport store.

Some foresaw that if it could happen to Woolworths, it could happen to anybody. Sadly, that has been borne out by the sad loss of a number of other high profile players on the High Street in the years since.

F W Woolworth first came to the UK in 1909, when the American firm opened a branch in Liverpool.

Everything in the Merseyside store was sold for sixpence (2.5p), making it an instant hit, with a huge queue on opening day.

Frank Winfield Woolworth had built his reputation in America on “nickel and dime” stores. In Britain the slogan was “everything for under a sixpence”, which sometimes resulted in goods such as tools or cameras being broken into parts so that shoppers would only be presented with a sixpence bill.

In any event, the upper price limit became unsustainable and was dropped around the time of the war.

The chain, which outlived its US parent by more than 10 years, was already struggling when the credit crunch and a sharp downturn in consumer spending, compounded by intense competition from supermarkets which were diversifying into ranges carried by Woolies and undercutting its prices, finally toppled it in November 2008.

The firm collapsed into administration and the end followed at dizzying speed, with all 807 branches in the UK shutting their doors in rapid succession.

A total of 27,000 jobs were lost after debts of £385 million meant administrators Deloitte were unable to find a buyer.

The first stores in our region to shut were at Newport and Whitchurch, which both closed their doors on December 27.

The last day of trading at Woolworths in High Street, Newport – December 27, 2008.

It must have been with mixed feelings that staff saw shoppers flock through the doors to snap up bargains in the final days and hours. Everything Must Go said the signs, and it was true. Even the fixtures and fittings went.

Closure dates for our other local stores were: Market Drayton and Oswestry, December 30; and Shrewsbury, Wellington, Welshpool, and Telford, on January 3, 2009 – they had originally been due to close the previous day, but were given a 24-hour stay of execution because there was still some stock remaining and more time was needed to handle the workload.

The Bridgnorth, Newtown, and Ludlow branches of the store chain also had a 24-hour stay of execution for the same reasons, finally closing on January 6.

Shoppers in Woolworths in Whitchurch browsing for last minute bargains.

Heavy a blow this all was, a Star survey in 2014 showed some hope of regeneration as we examined what had happened to the former Woolworths stores.

In Newport, just two months after Woolworths shut its doors it was replaced by a B&M Bargain Store.

Oswestry's Woolworths was also replaced by a discount retailer, with Home Bargains moving into the Bailey Street premises a few months after Woolworths shut, bringing with it 40 jobs and a £500,000 refit.

A branch of frozen food chain Heron had moved in to the Wellington site, while in Bridgnorth the building was taken over by The Factory Shop.

Woolworths' old premises in Whitchurch was replaced by discount store Poundstretcher in 2010. In Market Drayton, the store had lain empty until it was replaced by fashion retailer Peacocks in 2010.

In Shrewsbury, the shop on Castle Street wasn't empty for long with Swedish fashion house H&M and Home Bargains taking over.

Ludlow's Woolworths on Castle Street was snapped up by Spar Convenience Stores, and later also had a Subway under the same roof.

It was the end of Woolworths as we know it, but not the end of the name, which was sold and moved online.

Almost all gone – the empty aisles at Whitchurch.

And you can still shop at a physical Woolworths store, although the snag is you would have to get a plane to Barbados to do it. The F W Woolworth still trading in Bridgetown became independent in the 1980s.

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