The ongoing mystery of Byker’s (possible) former Woolies
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(UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, it’s been confirmed that the A&S Discount building was indeed Byker’s original Woolworths location.)
Back in January I posted a shot of what is now the A&S Discount store in Byker’s Shields Road, questioning whether it had ever been a Woolworths store, given its architectural similarities to many of the other former Woolies that I’d visited.
Since then, I’ve received many welcome comments and observations, visited even more old Woolies that look very similar to the said building in Byker, and trawled through quite a few old photographs of Byker (such as this lot) to try and find some evidence of the property’s past.
Though I’m little closer to identifying whether the building once was a Woolworths or not, information from Mike and his mother – both from Byker – suggests that it certainly hasn’t been a Woolies for 45 years or more. While Mike and his mum do remember a Woolworths on Shields Road, that store occupied a different building all together to the one that I blogged about:
Woolworths on Shields Road was further up where the Decorflair store is now. I confirmed this with a reliable source… my mother! (we are from Byker!) It goes back at least 1965 and probably a lot earlier… I can just remember going there as a kid in the 80’s. Not sure when it exactly closed, but it must have been the mid to late 80’s…
I took a photo of the Decorflair store today (below), though it’s difficult to see much of the shopfront when the shutters are down. Happily, Google Street View comes to the rescue, showing a frontage that certainly retains the appearance of a 1960s Woolworths store.
Needless to say, if anyone has any further information about either the Decorflair-definite-Woolies or the A&S-possible-Woolies I’d be delighted to hear from you. Did the Decorflair Woolworths indeed supersede the A&S one, perhaps sometime in the 1950s or early 1960s? And do any old photos of that stretch of Shields Road exist – perhaps shots of the splendid former Beavan’s department store, showing glimpses of the two buildings in question either side of it?
Before I finish, it would be remiss of me not to update on yet another Byker Woolworths – the most recent incarnation, at Newcastle Shopping Park, which opened in 2004 and closed following the retailer’s administration. There’s not much to report though – it’s still empty, and looks no different to how it did back in September.
Given that it’s 95,000 sq ft anchor store remains vacant, Newcastle Shopping Park seems to be managing surprisingly well. The car park was certainly busy when I visited today, and the Asda Living store had plenty of customers in both the store and the cafe. I also noted that the former JJB Fitness Club has been rebranded as DW Sports Fitness since my last visit in September, following JJB’s March 2009 disposal of its fitness clubs business to Dave Whelan – the ex-footballer who had created JJB Sports in the first place, back in 1977, before selling his last stake thirty years later.
Looking ahead, it’s hard to imagine a retailer that would want to occupy the whole of the enormous former Woolworths site. It’s probably about the right size for Best Buy (opening its first UK stores this Spring) or a Currys Megastore, but those types of retailers are more likely to favour the busier, higher profile retail parks on Tyneside, such as Team Valley or Silverlink, for their flagship stores. Perhaps carving the unit up into two or three smaller stores will ultimately prove to be the best way forward?