More of your ex-Woolies pics – and one that’s still very much alive
Back in February I featured a batch of readers’ ex-Woolies pics, showcasing the former stores in Warrington (now Poundland), Batley (JBM Bargains) and Beverley (Boots). For its sins, Soult’s Retail View seems to have prompted people across the country to start photographing Woolworths sites, not just in this country but also further afield. So, here’s another trio of Woolies stores for you…
First up is the ex-Woolies in the Monmouthshire market town of Chepstow, which Alastair Leaver captured while visiting there a couple of weeks ago. Like quite a few other former Woolies in Wales – such as those in Porthmadog and Caernarvon – the site has been taken over by the expanding discount department store, The Original Factory Shop. As seems to be customary for that retailer, only minimal changes have been made to the property, with the recognisable Woolies shopfront still in place.
Just like its competitor B&M Bargains, The Original Factory Shop’s ability to reoccupy ex-Woolies sites with minimal fuss seems to work in its favour. The retailer reported a sales uplift of 23% in the six weeks preceding Christmas 2010, with a healthy like-for-likes uplift of 5%, and has plans to open another 35 stores during 2011.
In an uncertain economy, it’s hard to dispute that the retail industry is having a choppy time, with several new administrations – including Officers Club and Oddbins – in just the last week. It’s heartening, however, to see retailers such as The Original Factory Shop not just weathering the storm but really capitalising upon the opportunities left by others businesses’ weakness.
B&M Bargains is another successful discount retailer doing just that. The 30,000 sq ft Gateshead flagship that I blogged about on April Fools Day may – for now – just be a flight of fancy, but I’ve regularly written about, and commended, the retailer’s ability to transform old Woolies into B&M stores in just a matter of days.
As I wrote in February, the old Burton upon Trent Woolworths, in the Coopers Square shopping centre, is one such location that B&M has recently taken over, with its new store opening there last month. Regular Midlands contributor Martin Jarvis kindly braved Coopers Square security to snap these shots of the busy B&M store.
Expanding from 67 stores in mid-2008 to 197 two years later, B&M’s recent growth has been remarkable, much of it the result of snapping up former Woolies sites. However, as the stock of suitable ex-Woolies locations shrinks to a trickle, B&M’s presence on both high streets and retail parks gives it plenty of options – scope to continue expanding organically, while also making the occasional acquisition, such as last year’s Opus Homewares.
As in the paragraph above, I’ve had to develop quite a vocabulary for referring to the fact that Britain’s Woolworths is defunct, bringing out all the qualifiers such as ‘ex’, ‘former’ and ‘collapsed’. However, the complicated history and fragmented legacy of the original, American F W Woolworth business means that there are still some places where ‘Woolworths’ stores are very much alive.
One such place is Germany, where reader Chris Exall captured a nighttime phone pic of this Woolworth-branded store, in the Bavarian town of Freising.
Of course, Woolworth GmbH – the present-day chain of Woolworths stores in Germany and Austria – has nothing to do with its collapsed British namesake, though there is an element of shared history. Both are spin-offs from the American parent, the UK business having split off in 1982 and the German one as recently as 1998.
Given this heritage, its not surprising that the German business offers a vaguely familiar product mix – including stationery, homewares, toys and seasonal goods – though it also sells men’s and women’s clothing, ranges that the UK chain jettisoned back in the 1980s.
Ironically, Woolworths Germany itself filed for bankruptcy in April 2009, just a few months after the collapse of the UK chain, but the story has a happier outcome. In July last year, new investors saved the brand and around half the stores, resulting in a truncated chain of 158 ‘small department stores’, and there are ambitious plans to grow the business back up to 500 shops of between 10,000 and 20,000 sq ft each.
Germany’s Woolworths may not be quite the same Woolies as shoppers in Britain recall with such fondness. However, it’s pleasing to know that there’s at least one place in the world where high street Woolies shops not only live on, but are seen as having an exciting – and viable – future that celebrates and builds upon the business’s “proud tradition”.