Friday, November 28, 2008

Bye Bye To Woolies

Woolworth's PLCSo Woolworth’s has finally gone into administration. Another Great British High Street institution bites the dust.

It’s been written about (far more expertly and feelingly) by other bloggers but I feel the need to add my twopenneth-worth to the debate (as opposed to adding it to the purchase fund).

I shall miss Woolies greatly even though I hardly ever shopped there (yes, blame me, Mr Woolworth, for your lack of sales). The Woolworth shop sign has been a pillar of the Leamington town centre for generations (Leamington is full of dodgy architecture) and was my gran’s favourite shop.

I shall miss its deep red Ariel-like typeface. It’s creaky hand-winched escalator (Leamington store only). The gaudy aisles. The Pick ‘n’ Mix. The unhelpfully spotty sales assistants. Especially the one with spiky hair (like Rod Stewart) who would effetely stand to one side and chew his fingernails rather than risk breaking them by ringing up a single sale on the antiquated cash register (blame him, Mr Woolworth, for your lack of sales).

I loved Woolworth’s far more as a kid. And it was never “Woolworth” – singular (as is correct) but always “Woolworth’s” which for some reason now strikes me a strange. The school holidays were always made complete by a trip to Woolworth – we’d inevitably have Christmas money or Easter money to spend and after Toytown, Woolworth was the store to spend it in. For me this usually entailed purchasing an A4 writing pad (narrow, ruled feint, margin) and some Woolworth felt tip pens with which I would construct bizarre stories inspired by my fevered pre-adolescent brain.

As I got older I fell out of love with Woolworth. I became a store snob and, may the gods of the High Street forgive me, Woolworth just seemed a little down-at-heel. A glorified pound shop almost. A white elephant store. It lost its identity. You were never quite sure what exactly Woolworth was trying to be. A little bit of everything it seemed but never anything definite.

In later years I merely used Woolworth as a short cut to get from the main shopping road (The Parade) to the road behind it that runs parallel. This seems an awful thing to admit to... like going into a pub merely to use the toilet without buying a single drink. But about 12 months ago they reorganized the store and sealed off the back exits (except for cases of fire) thus condemning this glorious cut-through to the stuff of myth and legend. Now I use the local branch of the HSBC instead but it’s not quite the same.

My most recent visit to Woolworth – a couple of weeks ago – was motivated by mercenary tendencies. On its last legs, blood oozing from its severed jugular, Woolworth were offering a 3 for 2 deal on all their toys. Christmas was (and is) getting nearer. They have a fine selection of Lego which I love. It seemed too good an offer to miss. So I made sure I didn’t. I pounced like a screaming hyena and got myself some bargains. I blew a lot of money that day – possibly gave Woolworth a temporary stay of execution (thank me later, Mr Woolworth, when I toss you my loose change) – but ultimately I came away in the knowledge that my selective purchases had saved me a good £60 and therefore cost Woolworth the same.

I did, I admit, feel a little cruel. Like I’d just snuck round the back and looted a burning building while the fire brigade were busy at the front. But hey, they invited me in. They were ripped and torn and desperate. They were selling the shirt off their back and throwing in the underpants for free.

It was sad to see.

*Sigh*

Sometimes a bullet through the crust is the kindest thing.

Ka-blam!

At ease, soldier. At ease.

29 comments:

KAZ said...

"As I got older I fell out of love with Woolworth" - me too.

As a little girl I used to go there after the dentist where mum bought me farm animals. They were probably 80%lead.

Later on they had amazing LP bargains notably on Nina Simone and Hendrix when they were out of fashion.

Sorry I deserted you Woolworth's'

Deirdre said...

Remember I said I was a Leamington girl Steve?..well did I dream it or did woolies used to sell broken biscuits? I know I am WAY older than you but I do seem to recall open tins of broken biscuits and another store called Greys/Grays(?)right next store.....I also remember when woolies branched out into 'modern homeware' and started selling crockery and ironing board covers etc.,.....did'nt help much did it? Ah well - another casualty in these hard times......

Steve said...

Kaz, I bought my first ever vinyl from Woolworth - Kate Bush I seem to recall. Previous to that I'd been a cassette man and bought most of those from Woolies too. I feel I could have done more to keep Woolies afloat. A Mars bar every day... something like that. Every little helps apparently. Or is that Tesco?

Deirdre, if my gran was alive she'd be able to confirm the broken biscuits thing - but it stirs some memories in my so I suspect it's true. And you're right. The day they started selling kettles, sofa cushions and tool kits was the day the Woolies life support machine began to fail.

EmmaK said...

Steve darling, I just had to inform you that you have a siamese blogging twin, Chris:
http://www.blogger.com/profile/16501924184090247089
are you two related?

Steve said...

Emma, this other guy is a "banker". Just what are you trying to say?!

MOTHER OF MANY said...

We are lucky enough to have a BIG W (Woolworth superstore) in Newport and it is Beauty's favourite treat to go there JUST to look at the toys.
I also took advantage of the 3 for 2 offers.I personally go there because it is out of town and easy to park whilst the three Woolworth shops in Cardiff are in High Street locations and they are difficult to access due to lack of parking spaces and it is difficult for me to walk distances.I grew up loving the shop and so did my girls and it will be sadly missed.

Steve said...

Hi Ally, I think Woolies should have concentrated more on nailing the kid's market rather than going into habberdashery, etc - a really good in-town toyshop is what is missing from so many places. Toys R Us is great but usually a real treck to get to.

French Fancy said...

Hello, saw you on the Brother's blog so had to come and explore you, as it were.

Woollies - doesn't it always remind you of being young. I had a weekly rummage in the Pick and Mix at the Muswell Hill branch. Store snobbery however does come and I too stopped going there, except for the occasional boring thing. I don't even live in the UK any more but I still don't like the thought of it not being around.

Steve said...

Well I'm very glad you popped in French Fancy and do hope you'll be back. There is indeed something about Woolies that taps into everyone's childhood... as said above I really do think they should have tapped into that a little bit more and capitalized on it. It may have saved them.

justme said...

I remember the broken biscuits! They really DID sell them. I quite often wander into Woollies in T Wells....usually I wander back out again without having bought anything. But I do recall when my son was a baby I bought quite a few Ladybird clothes which I seem to recall were very good value. And I did go through a phase of eating pic n mix........
What a shame. I think I shall miss it too!

Steve said...

Hi Justme, the Pick 'n' Mix was great - both as a kid and as an adult. I do wonder what percentage of Woolworth's profits ended up being swiped illegally from the store by light-fingered kids and adults though... after all, you can't bar code individual sweets!

Vips do orkut said...

Good and appropriate post, Stevenage. I can't quite believe Woolies is going to the bite the (saw)dust. True, some of us could be quite snobby about it (I remember as a kid thinking WH Smiths was "more classy") yet it's practically an institution. Sob!!

A few Woolies facts:

- My mum once worked in one as a teenager.
- There was once a movie made about the Woolworth heiress, Barbara Hutton, played by none other than Farrah Fawcett! I don't think it actually featured the aforementioned department store, though.
- My friends and I, being highly intellectual types, used to make up phrases using the first initials of shop names like Boots and Top Shop. Boots for example, stood for: "Bishops Only Ordain Total Sluts". We had a few for "Woolworths" but they were even naughtier and I shall refrain from mentioning them here. However you are welcome to email me if you would like me to divulge, Stevenage!

Old Cheeser said...

Hi again Steve!

Just realised I posted my last comment using my hubbie's sign in! Doh! It was actually your old mate Old Cheeser in case you didn't know!

Bestest,
OC aka Simon

Steve said...

Ha ha! The "Stevenage" was a dead give away OC - nice to see you around. How are things? I shall try and email you tomorrow - to find out how things are going with you as well as to find out what Woolworth really stands for!

kate5kiwis said...

Ka-blam!

you mercenary Christmas Shopper, you!!! but hey - at least they sold all that lego - and didn't have to give it away to the 1,2,3, DOLLAR STORE (do ya have Pound Stores? or maybe 99p Stores? lol)

so really, you were doing Woolies/Woollies (can't decide spelling - they both look stoopid lol) a favour - cos the mark-up on the first two lego boxes would exceed the cost price of the third, i'm sure X

Steve said...

You're right Kate, I was helping - in my own small way - to put Woolies out of its misery. And we do indeed have pound shops here. They go by the imaginatively thought up soubriquets of "Pound Stretcher" and even "The Pound Shop". But alas you can never by any Lego in them. But you can get a nice selection of mop heads and mugs with pictures of horses heads on them.

God I will miss Woolies!

Femin Susan said...

Hi………
Absolutely fantastic post! Good job!
Great! Keep writing…….
Good week……… Welcome to my blog…….

Steve said...

Thank you kindly Femin Susan - I shall check out your blog shortly!

Brother Tobias said...

I'll miss it. There is a Woolworths in evry chapter of my life. High Wycombe, with its Ladybird dungarees. Oban, source of plastic boats for beaches in the days when the raked counters/gondolas had assistants inside them, not a single checkout point. Shrewsbury, where a yob high on something threatened me with a knife, and I bought my first razor (unconnected). Newcastle. Inverness, with its own creaky escalator. Maidstone, also with a short-cut between streets, recently sealed off.

Steve said...

Woolworth's is like a post office or a ducking stool. Every self respecting town should have one. It's not proper to be Woolworth-less!

Flaming Nora said...

My memories are of buying 7" singles on a Saturday morning and of course Pick N Mix. But I have no sympathy for Woolies' demise. Who needs woolies when we have Wilkos?

Steve said...

Ah but not every town has a Wilkos, Nora. I think my nearest is in Coventry or maybe even Rugby - and I don't think I can afford the kevlar body armour that my sense of personal safety would require to get me to shop there.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

You have hit the nail on the head there Steve - Woolworths panicked amidst all the competition from Argos/Littlewoods on the one hand and the pound shops on the other and lost its way.

However I maintain there is still a role to be had for it if it was to specialise in guaranteed quality mid-range stuff that is both useful and beautiful. And in particular sets of kitchenware-for-one etc when students have to provide their own kitchen things at University and want sturdy no-nonsense stuff in primary colours to cheer their dreary student flat, including useful half-pint mug.

Oliver at Oliver's Poetry Garret has decided to launch a campaign to spend all our money there and save Woolies - I'm sure he would heartily approve of your valiant efforts on the lego front. When I got my own place a couple of years ago, I purchased at least half of my duck egg blue kitchenware from there, but alas their kitchenware has gone bitty and terribly random since as if the buyers don't talk to each other any more. This is where they are going wrong, not keeping consistent quality and stylishnses in their stock and thinking about what their customer wants to see, particularly in both a credit crunch/age in which we are supposed to be green and buy things to last. However those things to last can still be stylish and should be if we have to look at them for a long time!

Steve said...

We have an accord, Laura. A bit more direction and a lot more quality control could have saved Woolworth's bacon years ago. Whoever was at the helm and steered it onto the rocks should be hung from the mainbrace. Or tied to a Marlin spike. Or something like that. It'll be interesting to see what kind of bird rises from the Woolworth ashes...

TimeWarden said...

I remember buying a much-treasured black and gold plastic Dalek badge in Woolies sometime in the 60s!

I missed hearing David Bowie's "Starman", which I'd requested from Radio One, walking through Woolies. It was played as we cut through and the reception was poor on my transistor of the time.

Present day Woolies must have someone sitting out the back devoutly removing all shrink-wrapping from DVDs and, for that reason, I won't buy them there 'cos I prefer discs sealed for obvious reasons!

Rol said...

Like you,I hardly ever shopped there, but I liked to wander through and look at the stuff. There was always something worth looking at in Woolies, and it was a bright and cheerful addition to the high street - plus one of the only remaining "shops of our childhood". Sad to see it go.

Steve said...

TimeWarden, paying the shrink wrapper remover probably cost Woolies a fortune in wages and speeded up their demise. I prefer my goods to be shrink wrapped too. I like evidence of non-tamper.

Rol, I think that just about sums Woolies up: the shop of our childhood. Sadly I don't think the kids of today saw it in quite the same light...

Reluctant Blogger said...

Yes, I will rather miss Woolies not because it sold anything useful, just because it was always there.

Steve said...

RB, it was a staple of the high street. Part of the commercial world's daily bread. It shall be sorely missed. *sniff* RIP Woolies.