Cardiff city centre’s lost Woolworths

Former Woolworths (now BHS), Queen Street, Cardiff (17 Aug 2012). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now BHS), Queen Street, Cardiff (17 Aug 2012)

Paying my first visit to Cardiff in twenty years last week, I couldn’t resist tracking down the city centre’s former Woolworths locations – despite the torrential rain making conditions for photography somewhat challenging.

Cardiff still had several Woolworths branches outside the centre at the time of Woolworths’ collapse, in Cowbridge Road East (store #440), Albany Road (#476), Clifton Street (#484) and Llanrumney (#962). Woolies’ presence in the city centre, however, had come to an end some years earlier.

Opened in summer 1913, Cardiff’s original Woolworths (#25) was at 50-54 Queen Street, and was subject to many extensions and alterations over the years, including gaining 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 before, the store was an early disposal by Kingfisher following its takeover of the business, closing its doors in about 1985.

Former Woolworths (now BHS), Queen Street, Cardiff (17 Aug 2012). Photograph by Graham Soult

Former Woolworths (now BHS), Queen Street, Cardiff (17 Aug 2012)

Trading today as BHS, the building is nonetheless virtually unchanged from its Woolworths days. Indeed, look at the frontage from the right angle (above) and you can still spot the traces of the original ‘Woolworth’ lettering, as clearly shown in the 1960s view at 100thBirthday.co.uk.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Woolworths made a habit of reopening in towns and cities that it had previously abandoned, and Cardiff is no exception. After several years away, the chain returned to a site not far from its original spot on 26 July 1990, opening one of the small-format Music & Video stores (#1164) that had already launched in locations such as Middlesbrough and Metrocentre.

Location of Woolworths #1164 in Cardiff (17 Aug 2012). Photograph by Graham Soult

Location of Woolworths #1164 in Cardiff (17 Aug 2012)

Tracking this one down was a little harder, given that the address given in Woolworths’ records – 63-64 St Davids Way – no longer exists following the impressive transformation and extension of St David’s a few years ago. However, two different sources have pinpointed the location to opposite today’s That’s Entertainment, in what are now two of the shopping centre’s very few empty units (one the inevitable ex-Birthdays).

I don’t have a closure date for this store, though it was still trading at the time of Woolworths’ 1995 store list, a point when most of the other Music & Video branches had already shut (including both Middlesbrough and Metrocentre, in 1994). It’s hard to imagine, therefore, that it lasted much beyond that. [UPDATE, 21 August 2012: According to a reliable source in the 'Comments' section below, it was still around in summer 2001.]

While Woolworths later returned once more to Metrocentre and Middlesbrough – opening a larger store again in both locations – the Music & Video shop was, as far as I’m aware, Woolies’ last attempt to crack Cardiff city centre. Though anyone passing that site today is likely unware to be unaware of its Woolworths heritage, the nearby BHS store at least provides a more visible reminder of Woolies’ once-important position within Cardiff’s retail centre.

My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, provides bespoke place- and sector-specific market intelligence, including coverage of South Wales and ex-Woolworths locations. It also works with retailers nationwide to improve their stores, customer communications and market knowledge. For more information, visit www.cannyinsights.com, drop me an email, or give me a call on (0191) 461 0361.

Many thanks to Hbob at SkyscraperCity and Robert Mills on Twitter for their help in filling the gaps about Cardiff’s Woolworths history.

14 Responses to “Cardiff city centre’s lost Woolworths”

  1. Ian Spittle said:

    Aug 21, 12 at 17:47

    St David’s Centre was still operating when I last went to Cardiff on business for Woolies in summer 2001. I went Woolies spotting on my way back to the station from Albany Road. It must have closed at some point after my store (394, Cirencester) moved out of a Welsh District, probably autumn 2002. When I was in Cardiff last year, I spent a while looking gormless around St David’s Centre, trying to find where the store was!

  2. Graham Soult said:

    Aug 21, 12 at 17:51

    Ah, thanks Ian! That’s very helpful indeed. Can you recall whether the St David’s store was still just music and video when you visited it in 2001?

    By the way, I covered Cirencester 394 at http://www.soultsretailview.co.uk/2012/04/26/cirencesters-ex-woolworths-a-window-on-the-rise-of-discounters/, if you haven’t seen that one already!

  3. Ian Spittle said:

    Aug 21, 12 at 17:54

    Handful of sweets, and possibly a few big box promotional toys and homewares I think, but there wasn’t room for much at all.

  4. Hbob said:

    Aug 21, 12 at 22:30

    Yes that’s right. I worked in Cardiff City Centre. I’d put the closure date at around 2005. At the time of closure it still sold music and video (well DVDs by that time) only, with some snacks and a fridge of cold drinks.

  5. Graham Soult said:

    Aug 21, 12 at 22:41

    Interesting! So it sounds like it only disappeared a year or so before work began on St David’s 2?

  6. Hbob said:

    Aug 21, 12 at 23:06

    From memory, that’s about right!

  7. alex said:

    Oct 15, 12 at 21:03

    The 1164 store closed around 2005 as you walked thought the main doors it was located on the right hand side about 3 units up and was housed in 2 units at the time was opposite Thorntons chocolate. I worked there 2 years abs worked for Woolworths for 7 years best days of my life. Alex

  8. alex said:

    Oct 15, 12 at 21:08

    Worked in stores 440 484 1164 really miss it

  9. HBob said:

    Jan 07, 13 at 23:15

    Just as post-script to this, you may be interested to know that the former Woolworths (now BHS)above is due to close and will be transformed into a Primark store. Rumour is that BHS will downsize into the former Primark unit opposite (which was originally a C&A). Sounds like it may be a Newcastle-style BHS.

  10. alex said:

    Sep 29, 13 at 09:36

    Thought id post this here.
    This is a picture/add from the clifton street upstairs stock room. The store was a old cimena and had very high ceilings. This stock room was upstairs you could see the detail in the plasterwork of all different fruits etc
    http://m.zoopla.co.uk/to-rent/details/17471256

  11. Dex said:

    Oct 08, 13 at 21:00

    The Woolworths Music and Video at 63-64 St Davids Way was previously a branch of Medicare, a drugstore chain which Kingfisher purchased in the late 80′s to expand their Superdrug chain.

    As there was already a Superdrug in St. Davids Centre at this time Kingfisher presumably opted to unit for the music and video outlet.

  12. Dex said:

    Oct 08, 13 at 21:03

    The St. Davids Centre in Cardiff was originally financed by Woolworths along with Boots, M&S and the National Union of Miners pension fund.

  13. Dex said:

    Oct 08, 13 at 21:54

    Here’s a image of the store from July 2013 with the 1980′s “capped teeth” style cladding removed.

    http://imgur.com/9kQS9LS

  14. Mark Williams said:

    Jun 14, 14 at 04:44

    The store recently vacated by Primark will be taken by Matalan, as one of their new high st stores .


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