Locating the former Woolworths in Tottenham Court Road, forty years after its closure
Regular readers may recall my London-related post from last April, when I finally confirmed the location of the long-closed former Woolworths at 8-13 High Holborn (store #173). Today, the building – which closed as Woolworths on 28 June 1986, and was subsequently reclad – houses several smaller shops, including a branch of Argos that still retains Woolies’ distinctive black-granite stall riser.
In the same post, my efforts to track down the contemporaneous Tottenham Court Road branch (#175) were more tentative, suggesting – wrongly, as it turned out – that the old Woolworths might be the present-day Paperchase at numbers 213-215. However, thanks to a tip-off from Soult’s Retail View reader Rana Singh I’ve now been able to pinpoint the correct location:
“My family ran two Indian restaurants in the area: 24 Goodge Street (1959-1972) and 60 Tottenham Court Road (1966-1992), so I grew up round there.
“Woolworths in Tottenham Court Road were situated on the south side of Stephen Street approximately where Brian’s Hi-Fi/Sony Centre & Samsung Centre now stand. The area was totally redeveloped in the 1970s. There never was a Woolies in the current Paperchase – our restaurant was right opposite it.”
Needless to say, I made sure that I stopped by Tottenham Court Road when I was down in London again last week, to get a few photographs of the building in question.
In Tottenham Court Road, locating the correct Samsung or Sony shop is a more complicated task than you might imagine – the street’s bottom end, near the Dominion Theatre, is something of a consumer electronics retail cluster, with almost every store bearing the logos of leading hi-fi brands.
Usefully, however, the 1972 Woolworths stores list – which I acquired after my previous visit – narrows things down by giving the store’s address as 20-21 Tottenham Court Road. This corresponds to the address of the present-day Samsung and Bose shop, in exactly the location that Rana had described.
Interestingly, the 1972 stores list also shows the Tottenham Court Road branch as already closed, indicating that it was among the chain’s earliest casualties. By 1972, Woolworths had opened more than 1,100 shops across the UK and Ireland over the preceding six decades, but had vacated fewer than 50 – among them Brompton Road (#391), another central London store that I wrote about back in November 2010.
As we now know, however, the rate of closures accelerated considerably once the UK business was demerged from its American parent in 1982, with both prime and secondary sites sold off. The 807 stores that remained at the time of Woolworths’ collapse in 2008 represented quite a reduction from the 1960s peak of 1,100+ shops, particularly when offset against the steady rate of new store openings that still took place in the 1990s and 2000s.
More than forty years on from its closure and subsequent redevelopment, few people may still recall the Woolworths in Tottenham Court Road. However, its closure – and that of other Woolies locations at the same time – can, in hindsight, be seen as an important tipping point: the moment when Woolworths not only began to withdraw from central London, but more generally started to evolve from a still-expanding retailer into one in terminal decline.