A Woolies twist to every story

Former Zavvi, Newcastle (27 Sep 2009). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Zavvi, Newcastle (27 Sep 2009)

Well, that’s a surprise! I’ve only just discovered that I’ve been photographing and blogging about a former Woolworths store – here, and more recently here – without even realising it. 

While I was vaguely aware that there had been a Woolies in Newcastle’s Northumberland Street many years ago, I hadn’t realised that it occupied the soon-to-be-Peacocks former Zavvi building. 

Woolworths, Northumberland Street, c.1970?. Photograph from Newcastle Libraries

Woolworths, Northumberland Street, c.1970?. Photograph from Newcastle Libraries

The presence of the Fenwick department store in both shots above is the giveaway – and Newcastle Libraries’ superb Flickr stream has quite a few more images that show the Woolies store in all its glory. Interestingly, one great shot shows the Woolworths store still open in 1983; presumably someone out there can shed light on when it closed, and whether the property was anything else prior to becoming the Virgin Megastore. [UPDATE, 29 October 2010: I’ve sourced some old newspaper articles referring to Next’s takeover of the site in 1985, and which infer that Woolies shut in 1984. More of that in a future post, I hope.]

The fate of the Northumberland Street shop seems to have mirrored that of many other large, city centre Woolworths stores across the UK. Between the 1950s and 1970s, Woolworths developed many flagship shops – department stores, essentially – in major city centres, occupying several floors and a prominent location. At the same time, there was often a smaller store at the other end of town – just like the branch in Newcastle’s Clayton Street. 

However, the 1980s saw Woolies downsizing or closing many of these flagship stores, at the same time as withdrawing from certain product areas (such as adult clothing and groceries) to focus upon the ranges for which it latterly became best known – toys, confectionery, homewares, entertainment and children’s clothing. Thus, cities such as Leeds and Newcastle lost their main Woolworths store at this time, but kept the smaller one. 

Similarly, when I lived in Sheffield in the 1990s, I remember hearing about the Woolworths store in Haymarket that had closed down some years before, having been rebuilt in the 1950s following war damage. The unit later became Dunnes Stores (which closed down and then reopened in the same spot a few years later), and currently houses a large branch of Wilkinson. 

Meanwhile, Sheffield’s second branch, on The Moor, lasted right through to Woolies’ ultimate demise at the end of 2008. In a neat twist, bringing us back to where this blog post started, that site too is reportedly going to become a Peacocks.

With thanks to Newcastle Libraries for the use of the historic photograph of Woolworths in Northumberland Street.

Graham Soult

Retail consultant, writer, blogger; helping retailers via CannyInsights.com and CannySites.com. Say hello on Twitter at @soult!

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11 Responses

  1. Donperignon says:

    After Woolworths on Northumberland Street Closed. It bcame Next, after Next it was Virgin which became Zavvi, then it was Peacocks, now it is Sports Direct.

  2. sheila says:

    My first job in 1976 was in woolworths in northumberland street.I was 16

  3. Angus Greenland says:

    The site was a NEXT post woolies and prior to Virgin

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