The ongoing mystery of Byker’s (possible) former Woolies

Still not sure if this is an old Woolies or not... (7 Mar 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Still not sure if this is an old Woolies or not… (7 Mar 2010)

(UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, it’s been confirmed that the A&S Discount building was indeed Byker’s original Woolworths location.)

Back in January I posted a shot of what is now the A&S Discount store in Byker’s Shields Road, questioning whether it had ever been a Woolworths store, given its architectural similarities to many of the other former Woolies that I’d visited.

Since then, I’ve received many welcome comments and observations, visited even more old Woolies that look very similar to the said building in Byker, and trawled through quite a few old photographs of Byker (such as this lot) to try and find some evidence of the property’s past.

...but most people seem to agree that it *does* look like one (7 Mar 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

…but most people seem to agree that it *does* look like one (7 Mar 2010)

Though I’m little closer to identifying whether the building once was a Woolworths or not, information from Mike and his mother – both from Byker – suggests that it certainly hasn’t been a Woolies for 45 years or more. While Mike and his mum do remember a Woolworths on Shields Road, that store occupied a different building all together to the one that I blogged about:

Woolworths on Shields Road was further up where the Decorflair store is now. I confirmed this with a reliable source… my mother! (we are from Byker!) It goes back at least 1965 and probably a lot earlier… I can just remember going there as a kid in the 80’s. Not sure when it exactly closed, but it must have been the mid to late 80’s…

I took a photo of the Decorflair store today (below), though it’s difficult to see much of the shopfront when the shutters are down. Happily, Google Street View comes to the rescue, showing a frontage that certainly retains the appearance of a 1960s Woolworths store.

Former Woolworths (now Decorflair), Shields Road, Byker, with the former Beavan's department store in the background (7 Mar 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Decorflair), Shields Road, Byker, with the former Beavan’s department store in the background (7 Mar 2010)

Needless to say, if anyone has any further information about either the Decorflair-definite-Woolies or the A&S-possible-Woolies I’d be delighted to hear from you. Did the Decorflair Woolworths indeed supersede the A&S one, perhaps sometime in the 1950s or early 1960s? And do any old photos of that stretch of Shields Road exist – perhaps shots of the splendid former Beavan’s department store, showing glimpses of the two buildings in question either side of it?

Before I finish, it would be remiss of me not to update on yet another Byker Woolworths – the most recent incarnation, at Newcastle Shopping Park, which opened in 2004 and closed following the retailer’s administration. There’s not much to report though – it’s still empty, and looks no different to how it did back in September.

Former Woolworths, Newcastle Shopping Park, Byker (7 Mar 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths, Newcastle Shopping Park, Byker (7 Mar 2010)

Given that it’s 95,000 sq ft anchor store remains vacant, Newcastle Shopping Park seems to be managing surprisingly well. The car park was certainly busy when I visited today, and the Asda Living store had plenty of customers in both the store and the cafe. I also noted that the former JJB Fitness Club has been rebranded as DW Sports Fitness since my last visit in September, following JJB’s March 2009 disposal of its fitness clubs business to Dave Whelan – the ex-footballer who had created JJB Sports in the first place, back in 1977, before selling his last stake thirty years later.

Looking ahead, it’s hard to imagine a retailer that would want to occupy the whole of the enormous former Woolworths site. It’s probably about the right size for Best Buy (opening its first UK stores this Spring) or a Currys Megastore, but those types of retailers are more likely to favour the busier, higher profile retail parks on Tyneside, such as Team Valley or Silverlink, for their flagship stores. Perhaps carving the unit up into two or three smaller stores will ultimately prove to be the best way forward?

7 Responses to “The ongoing mystery of Byker’s (possible) former Woolies”

  1. Adam said:

    Mar 09, 10 at 10:57

    It always surprises me how busy that retail park is, too, I think it’s quite lucky in having some very strong brands there which are real people pullers. On the Woolworths unit, I think the problem with carving the unit up would be that you’re increasing your workload in trying to find new clients.

  2. Graham Soult said:

    Mar 09, 10 at 13:10

    “On the Woolworths unit, I think the problem with carving the unit up would be that you’re increasing your workload in trying to find new clients”

    You’re right in one way, Adam, and ordinarily I’ve tended to be critical of (town centre) Woolworths stores being split up. However, the Byker one is *so* large, my hunch is that dividing it up may be the only way to secure new occupants. Are there other retailers I’ve forgotten about who might go for a 95,000 sq ft retail park store? (and who aren’t already represented nearby)

  3. Soult's Retail View» Blog Archive » Finding old Woolworths stores in unlikely places, courtesy of The New Bond said:

    May 28, 10 at 20:36

    [...] business finally collapsed in 2008 – shops such as those in Ripley (now Amber Value) or Byker (now Decorflair), for instance, that shut down in the 80s or 90s. In many case, little detail of [...]

  4. Peter (Newcastle Historian) said:

    Oct 25, 10 at 15:44

    Graham,

    I have today found a photo of the Woolworths on Shields Road, Byker.

    I thought I would NEVER find one, so am quite chuffed about it!!

    I have sent you the photo, via your ‘contact’ system, hope you got it.

    Peter (aka Newcastle Historian)

  5. Soult's Retail View» Blog Archive » Piecing together the history of Shields Road’s old Woolies said:

    Oct 29, 10 at 17:40

    [...] I first wrote about back it in January, we’re still yet to establish whether the A&S Discount Store building in Byker’s Shields Road (below) was ever an old [...]

  6. Audrey Stenhouse said:

    Jun 24, 13 at 20:15

    Decor Flair was the Woolworths store

  7. Graham Soult said:

    Jun 24, 13 at 20:18

    Thanks Audrey! I do know that – see the follow-ups! :) This A&S building was a Woolworths store too, however, before it relocated to the Decorflair premises.


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