A tale of three Tyneside ex-Woolies – Jarrow, North Shields and Wallsend
While Store Twenty One is about to take over the unoccupied part of South Shields’ former Woolies, the ex-Woolworths in Jarrow – already part-occupied by Store Twenty One – has gained a new tenant for its own vacant section.
As I reported back in November, Jarrow’s old Woolworths has been divided in two, with Store Twenty One taking the largest portion (4,112 sq ft) facing the Viking Centre’s bustling Bede Precinct. In turn, what used to be the back half of Woolies, facing the much quieter Grange Road, has been split into two further shops, totalling 3,175 sq ft. The right-hand unit, empty when I last visited (below), has now been taken over by a shop for the local St Clare’s Hospice, an independent charity that provides specialist palliative care to adults living south of the Tyne.
Monday was the first time I’d seen the unit without its shutters down, and I was pleased to see all the giveaway signs of it being an ex-Woolies, with the distinctive metal-framed shopfront and black granite stall riser. Store Twenty One, of course, has installed an entirely new shopfront on its part of the building (below), meaning that the unit’s past as a Woolworths is much less obvious from the Bede Precinct side.
While the carved-up former Woolworths sites in South Shields and Jarrow inch towards full occupancy, the old Woolies in North Shields looks, sadly, to be back on the market. The well-stocked and useful MIS Wallcoverings & Textiles Superstore (formerly Cramlington Textiles) in Saville Street West, which I first visited at the end of 2009, continues to trade, but with a ‘for sale or to let’ sign above the ground-floor frontage.
Marketed by local property consultants A T Retail, the particulars confirm that the 5,619 sq ft unit is being offered either for lease or for sale “with vacant possession”, though there’s currently no visible sign – other than the ‘for sale’ board – of the MIS store closing down.
The building is both attractive and a good size, but I suspect its slightly off-centre location may be the biggest hurdle to finding a new occupant. The presence of a long-vacated and much-altered Burton’s building opposite suggests that Saville Street West was once much more of a retail thoroughfare than it is now – today, much of the street is occupied by charity shops, convenience stores and empty units, as well as a couple of disused pubs. With a bit of luck, Asda’s new store on the current Netto site in Saville Street, barely 100 metres away, might help to build footfall in the vicinity and stem the current decline.
Along the river, another North Tyneside town that is looking forward to the conversion of its Netto into Asda is Wallsend. Unfortunately, the Hadrian Road supermarket is a little too far from the High Street to have much positive impact on the town’s main retail centre, but the prominent vacant Woolworths site – following a brief and unsuccessful incarnation as Well Worth It – is a potent symbol of Wallsend’s current travails, stemming at least in part from Morrisons’ failure to open its promised store on the acquired Co-op supermarket site.
That has already left a big hole in the town’s Forum Shopping Centre for more than two years, which isn’t set to be filled until a planned redevelopment completes at the end of 2013. Visiting Wallsend on Monday, I spotted at least two more stores in ‘closing down’ mode, including the Plaster Piece fireplace showroom, next to the old Woolworths in Station Road, and a branch of the collapsed fashion and homewares retailer Ethel Austin (aka Life & Style).
Wallsend has some decent and popular retailers, both independent and multiple, but it really could do with some new stores – such as the Store Twenty Ones and B&M Bargains of the world, as well as another reasonably priced food store – to give the town centre a much-needed boost of both morale and footfall.
The modern centre promised for 2013 looks good; the danger in the meantime, however, is that indie closures and further multiples collapsing will increasingly force Wallsend’s shoppers to look elsewhere.