Boyes takes over Bishop Auckland’s old Woolies – could more follow?
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When I blogged about the remaining vacant Woolies stores in the North East a few days ago, I’d failed to spot that yet another is about to be reoccupied, with Boyes – the iconic northern variety retailer – announced as the new tenant of Bishop Auckland’s former Woolworths. The store is set to open by Christmas, and will create 30 jobs.
As I noted in October, Boyes had expressed an interest in former Woolies sites in the North East as early as March last year. However, this is the first opening to come to fruition in the region, after Boyes had apparently worked “with the receivers for Woolworths… for more than a year.”
The Bishop Auckland store will add to Boyes’ 11 existing outlets across County Durham and Teesside, including nearby sites in Newton Aycliffe and Darlington.
I imagine that Boyes’ established shops in the south of the region – also including Billingham, Redcar, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Barnard Castle, Chester-le-Street and Consett – have already up mopped up some of the demand for homewares, stationery, haberdashery and other household items that would previously have been shared with those towns’ now-closed Woolies stores.
There are also Boyes branches in Yarm and Guisborough, where Woolworths has never (as far as I’m aware) had a presence, and where Boyes is very much an anchor retailer within the town.
Boyes’ existing strength in the North East, coupled with the dearth of available ex-Woolies sites, suggests that Bishop Auckland may be the first and last such acquisition – exactly 100 years after Boyes first began to expand beyond its original store in Scarborough.
In Peterlee and Wallsend, the old Woolies premises are probably too small for Boyes, while Hartlepool’s two-storey unit is more than likely too big. Though the flagship Boyes in Scarborough, opened in 1881, is spread over four large floors and is essentially a department store – complete with food hall and restaurant – other shops in the chain are rarely as extensive.
That really leaves the north of the region – Northumberland and Tyne & Wear – where Boyes is yet to establish a presence. It came close, in 2008, to opening up in the former Kwik Save in Prudhoe’s Front Street, but ultimately lost out on that site to The Original Factory Shop.
All the old Woolies sites in Northumberland are already taken (though Berwick’s former Kwik Save could be worth a look), but Tyneside has a couple of possibilities.
Newcastle’s Clayton Street Woolworths would be perfect as a Boyes, and would give a real boost to that end of town. Boyes’ existing presence in Middlesbrough, in the Dundas shopping centre, has shown that its model works in large urban centres as well as in small towns.
However, my vote would be for Boyes to snap up the old Woolworths store in Gateshead High Street. While work on the redevelopment of Gateshead town centre appeared to have stalled, I was understandably pessimistic about the prospects of any retailer wanting to take over the former Woolies site.
However, with the Get Carter car park finally biting the dust, and firm plans having been submitted for what will replace it, the situation looks more promising. Even in the shorter term, Tesco’s plans to open a temporary store in the old Kwik Save – directly opposite the former Woolies – while its current store is demolished could be a useful generator of footfall to the High Street.
Though it has Wilkinson and Home Bargains, Gateshead has missed having a department-type store since the Co-op closed in 2006. Boyes might be just what is needed to plug that gap.