Woolies spotting in Leeds

Original Woolworths (now House of Fraser), Briggate, Leeds (21 Jan 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Original Woolworths (now House of Fraser), Briggate, Leeds (21 Jan 2011)

As you would expect, I used the opportunity of being in Leeds last week to check out the city centre’s former Woolies sites.

Leeds’ original Woolworths in Briggate – store #5 – was one of the very first to open in the UK, in 1911. Following a 1959 rebuild, it also became one of the largest city centre sites from which Woolworths ever traded. The black and white postcard below shows the store (the prominent white building in the centre) prior to its redevelopment, while the colour view (taken from the opposite direction of Briggate) captures the rebuilt store’s 1960s heyday. Matthias Robinson’s department store – today’s Debenhams – is visible in the foreground, while Woolworths can be seen towards the far right of the scene.

Old postcard of Briggate prior to Woolworths rebuilding

Old postcard of Briggate prior to Woolworths rebuilding

Postcard of Briggate, Leeds, c1960s. Woolworths is on the right

Postcard of Briggate, Leeds, c1960s. Woolworths is on the right

Just as Newcastle’s main Woolies store was sold off in 1984, so the Leeds store was also disposed of in the same year. In turn, the House of Fraser-owned department store group Schofields took over the site, in 1988, while its longstanding Headrow store – opened in 1901 on the site of today’s Core shopping centre – was redeveloped and reduced in size.

Subsequently, the temporary Schofields (rebadged as Rackhams) was retained alongside the original Schofields store. In 1996, however, the original Schofields on The Headrow was closed down – just six years after it had been rebuilt – while the Briggate store took on the House of Fraser name that it retains to this day. Even now, however, the Briggate frontage is remarkably unchanged from how it appeared as a Woolworths store more than half a century ago. 

Former Woolworths (now Home Bargains), Merrion Centre, Leeds (21 Jan 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now Home Bargains), Merrion Centre, Leeds (21 Jan 2011)

Some time after the Briggate Woolworths closed, a new but much smaller Woolies (#1142) opened in the Merrion Centre at the opposite end of town. This lasted until the retailer’s collapse into administration, closing its doors for the last time on 2 January 2009. Just days later, however, Home Bargains was revealed as the new tenant of the 15,158 sq ft unit.

1970s postcard of Merrion Centre

1970s postcard of Merrion Centre

Conscious of the hazards of shopping centre security guards, I made a point of tracking down the centre manager’s office to ask permission to take a photograph. Given the prominent signposting of the office from the mall, I imagined that the management would be accustomed to – or would even welcome – members of the public dropping in with enquiries.

Merrion Centre entrance, Leeds (21 Jan 2011). Photograph by Graham Soult

Merrion Centre entrance, Leeds (21 Jan 2011)

However, even once I’d explained who I was, the reception I received was rather frosty and disinterested – a pity, given that my intention was to say positive things about a centre that is, admittedly, slightly dated in ambience, but has a pretty good mix of value retailers, a strong anchor in Morrisons, and very few empty units at all.

Informed that I would have to get permission from the manager of each and every store whose shopfront I wanted to photograph, I duly set off, with some trepidation, to Home Bargains. Happily, the store manager was out and about on the shopfloor, and was delightful – warm, friendly, and pleased for me to take a photograph of his shop.

When I was filming with the BBC last year, I gained an equally positive impression of the smart and personable staff in Hartlepool’s Home Bargains store, and it all reflects well on the TJ Morris-owned business. I don’t know if ‘Secret Shopper’ Mary Portas is tackling discount variety stores as part of her current crusade “to give shoppers the service they deserve”, but my experience of Home Bargains certainly suggests that it is possible to build a growing and profitable discount business at the same time as nurturing a friendly, winning workforce.

8 Responses to “Woolies spotting in Leeds”

  1. Gabriella Coscia said:

    Jan 27, 11 at 20:38

    I think this Woolworths closed in the early 90′s late 80′s and House of Fraser opened it under the Rackhams name before the national H of F identity was created for the group.

    Originally Schofields was the other H of F store and that closed as H of F concentrated on this store as the sole store for Leeds.

    Sohofields is now known as the Core shopping centre I think Leeds is a good place for shopping.

  2. Soult's Retail View » Leeds’ “retail soulmate” starts to take shape said:

    Jan 31, 11 at 22:55

    [...] my recent visit to Leeds city centre, one of the most visible retail developments was the ongoing construction work for [...]

  3. Soult's Retail View » Remembering Shoppers World: Woolworths’ early Argos-style experiment said:

    Feb 14, 11 at 00:11

    [...] Leeds store, in the Merrion Centre, would be opening on 12 September 1974. As I blogged before, the Merrion Centre later played host to an eponymous Woolworths store (pictured below), which opened in the 1980s – does anyone know whether this was the same [...]

  4. Soult's Retail View » Derby’s original Woolworths site – and a precedent for today’s retail churn said:

    Aug 30, 11 at 12:54

    [...] stores tended not to occupy purpose-built premises, though many of those shops – such as Leeds (#5, opened 1911) or Leicester (#49, opened 1915) - were subsequently rebuilt in a distinctive [...]

  5. Soult's Retail View » Princes Street’s lost Woolworths flagship said:

    Feb 03, 12 at 00:35

    [...] a centrally located Woolworths store at all, unlike other large cities in the 1980s – such as Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle – where a smaller store remained open even after the flagship [...]

  6. Soult's Retail View » One town, five stores: tracking down Middlesbrough’s ex-Woolworths (part 1) said:

    Feb 19, 12 at 17:33

    [...] following on from those that had already opened in Liverpool (two stores), Preston, Manchester, Leeds, Hull and [...]

  7. Soult's Retail View » One town, five stores: tracking down Middlesbrough’s ex-Woolworths (part 2) said:

    Feb 21, 12 at 01:08

    [...] happened in many other locations, such as Inverness or Leeds, Woolworths took the opportunity to rebuild and enlarge its Middlesbrough store in the 1950s, while [...]

  8. Soult's Retail View » Cardiff city centre’s lost Woolworths said:

    Aug 21, 12 at 11:06

    [...] an entrance to the then-new St David’s Shopping Centre in the early 1980s. However, like Leeds (#5), Edinburgh (#213) and many of the other city-centre flagships that I’ve blogged about [...]


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