Cumbria’s 100% hit rate of new Woolies tenants

Former Woolworths (now B&M Bargains), Penrith (19 Jun 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now B&M Bargains), Penrith (19 Jun 2010)

In between touring the East Midlands, travelling up to Berwick, and stopping off in Horley on my way out the country, I also found time this summer to visit the attractive Lake District market town of Penrith – a viable day trip from here on Tyneside.

Regular followers of this blog will barely be surprised to hear that Penrith’s former Woolworths (#416), opened in Middlegate in 1930, not only bears all the architectural hallmarks of an old Woolies, but has also been taken over by the increasingly ubiquitous B&M Bargains. You can just about make out the Woolworths building in this 1950s postcard of Middlegate – on the left-hand side of the street, partly obscured by a Kodak banner.

Postcard of Middlegate, 1950s

Postcard of Middlegate, 1950s

The impressive property opposite Woolworths is Penrith’s fine Burton menswear building, which, happily, is not only still standing but also still houses – at least in part – a branch of Burton. However, the person who thought it was a good idea to remove the store’s original logo (which is still just about visible), and to insert a second, lower fascia below the original black marble, deserves to be severely ticked off. So many purpose-built Burton buildings have been disfigured by ill-considered alterations, and this is a great pity. Perhaps one day this elegant building’s proper proportions can be restored.

Burton store, Penrith (5 Nov 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Burton store, Penrith (5 Nov 2010)

Back to Woolies though, and Cumbria has the somewhat unusual distinction, nearly two years on from the retailer’s collapse, of seeing all nine of its former Woolworths stores with new tenants. Running through them, the list reads like a roll call of those businesses that have been most active, across the UK, in snapping up former Woolies sites. It is notable too – and reflective of our times – that all but one of those nine stores now houses some form of discount retailer.

The county’s oldest Woolworths store, in Carlisle (#159), has also become B&M Bargains, while Kendal’s (#438) has been take over by Home Bargains, and Keswick’s (#938) by the growing Mountain Warehouse outdoor chain. In the south of the county, Barrow’s Woolies (#242) is now Poundland while Ulverston’s (#478) is a Tesco Express – the only ‘non-discount’ retailer among the collection.

Over in west Cumbria, Maryport’s former Woolworths (#618) has been replaced by The Original Factory Shop, and Workington’s (#382) by Sports Direct. In the last few months, Whitehaven’s old Woolies (#253) has become the last to be taken over, one half occupied by Poundland, and the other – somewhat controversially – by a British Heart Foundation furniture store.

Even in comparison to other Cumbrian towns, the inhabitants of Whitehaven can be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed by what now occupies one of their town’s (formerly) largest retail units. The other issue is how Corrie star Andy Whyment ever has time to tread the cobbles in between attending Poundland grand openings.

Former Woolworths (now - partly - Poundland) in South Shields (18 Jun 2010). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now - partly - Poundland) in South Shields (18 Jun 2010)

As you may recall, I’ve cautioned against dividing up old Woolworths units before. South Shields, for example, has gained a decent-sized Poundland – opened by Andy’s equally busy colleague, Jennie McAlpine – but still has a large chunk of the building that shows no sign of being let. Would the unit as a whole have been more attractive to potential tenants? I wouldn’t bet against it.

Indeed, news from Caernarfon yesterday gives hope that a long-empty Woolies can be reoccupied without having to resort to carving it up. Back in July, I blogged about how the store – #417, and opened as a Woolies at almost exactly the same time as Penrith’s – was one of the last in North Wales to still be empty. Meanwhile, plans to convert the building into two shops, with offices and an apartment above, had come to nothing.

Now, however, The Original Factory Shop is not only taking over the whole of the property’s ground floor, but is also going to trade from upstairs. It may have taken a while to happen, but I can’t help thinking that Caernarfon’s outcome, rather than Whitehaven’s, will ultimately be more beneficial for the viability of its high street.

6 Responses to “Cumbria’s 100% hit rate of new Woolies tenants”

  1. smlp said:

    Nov 05, 10 at 21:18

    I understand when retail units are split up in right value locations (Northumberland Street Newcastle for example) but in places where the high street foot fall is lower (south shields) it never seems to work.

    Landlords just trying hard to max out on £££’s i guess but actually the empty units always make the high street look worse.

  2. Tweets that mention Soult's Retail View» Blog Archive » Cumbria’s 100% hit rate of new Woolies tenants -- said:

    Nov 06, 10 at 19:26

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by chris shaw, Graham Soult. Graham Soult said: New retail blog post – Cumbria's 100% hit rate of new Woolies tenants – #li [...]

  3. Soult's Retail View » Blog Archive » What’s become of North Yorkshire’s former Woolies? said:

    Nov 18, 10 at 18:20

    [...] well as comprehensively exploring the North East, and making the occasional excursion into Cumbria or Scotland, I’ve also clocked a few of North Yorkshire’s former Woolworths stores over [...]

  4. Soult's Retail View » Blog Archive » Jarrow’s Burton building – a retail history treasure with a Woolies twist said:

    Jan 15, 11 at 22:05

    [...] unaltered condition. Where many old Burton buildings, such as those in North Shields, Gateshead and Penrith, have been crudely carved up and spoilt, Jarrow’s retains both its original black marble [...]

  5. Soult's Retail View » More of your ex-Woolies pics – and one that’s still very much alive said:

    Apr 04, 11 at 21:57

    [...] weeks ago. Like quite a few other former Woolies in Wales – such as those in Porthmadog and Caernarvon – the site has been taken over by the expanding discount department store, The Original [...]

  6. Soult's Retail View » On the hunt for ex-Woolies – and thriving high streets – in the Scottish Borders said:

    Jan 27, 12 at 21:19

    [...] comparing the two shots below, the frontage is almost identical in scale and style to that of the contemporaneous Penrith store (#416). Former Woolworths (now Farmfoods), Hawick (29 May 2011) Former Woolworths (now B&M [...]

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