The new occupants of Cornwall’s ex-Woolies – plus one that’s still empty
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Having visited and photographed nearly 150 ex-Woolworths sites in the last three years (including 17 in the last week alone) – 50 of which are yet to feature in the blog – it’s about time I did some catching up.
Earlier in the year I wrote about two of the Woolworths stores in Cornwall that had disappeared long before the retailer’s 2008 collapse: Redruth (store #813), which seemingly closed in the 1980s and is now Superdrug; and Launceston (#812), which became one of the chain’s earliest closures when it shut its doors on 9 June 1973, and has had at least three occupants since. I also mentioned the ex-Big W, just outside Redruth, which lasted only from 2000 to 2005 and was subsequently taken over by Tesco.
What has become, however, of the ten Cornish stores that were still trading at the end – six of which I managed to visit back in February?
From the launch of the inaugural UK Woolworths shop on 5 November 1909, Cornwall had to wait more than eighteen years for its first Woolies to arrive: the store in St Austell (#291), which opened its doors in November 1927 and is now Poundland. However, more followed quickly after that, with both Camborne (#304; 24-26 Trelowarren St) and Falmouth (#306; 19-20 Market Street) opening the following year.
Regular readers will recognise the distinctive architectural style of the Camborne shop immediately, as it features all the hallmarks of the Woolies 1920s house style that I’ve highlighted many times before. However, rather like the Woolworths store in Llandudno (#269) or the original Redcar Woolies (#275), Camborne’s gained a side extension at some point in time – adding useful space, clearly, but detracting from the frontage’s appealing symmetry.
Less than a year after Woolworths’ collapse, the site was taken over by Poundstretcher. However, like in North Berwick (#804), the retention of the distinctive shopfront and black granite stall riser ensures that a bit of Woolies heritage lives on.
In Falmouth, meanwhile, more of Woolies lives on than the local council and shoppers might have wished: the property is yet to find a new occupant, and its Woolworths signage remains in place.
My friend Stu Wrigley sent me an updated shot from earlier this month (below), but apart from the addition of some hanging baskets little seems to have changed since February. Window displays installed by the town’s Business Improvement District (BID) team last year ensure that the building’s negative visual impact is reduced, but the obvious presence of a prominent, still-empty Woolies – now one of a dwindling number, three years on – is not really a first impression any town would wish to make.
It’s surprising too, as the property is in a good location, and both Falmouth and the ex-Woolies building have significant charm. Since the 1950s view below, the insertion of a later shopfront and clumsily proportioned fascia have done the Falmouth store few architectural favours, but it remains at its heart a handsome and imposing property, not too dissimilar to the slightly earlier store in Chester-le-Street (#267) that now houses B&M Bargains.
Perhaps Falmouth’s ex-Woolies will have to wait until B&M makes its way to Cornwall – probably some way off given that the retailer has not yet expanded into the West Country.
During the 1930s, Cornwall gained another trio of Woolworths stores: in Bodmin (#569; now Iceland), Liskeard (#623; now Superdrug) and Penzance (#651), the last of which I was able to visit. The store, at 106-108 Market Jew Street, is a curious pedimented twist on the usual Woolies look, though its transformation into Poundland – one of the most prolific occupants of ex-Woolworths premises – is less of a surprise. One half of a fourth Cornish Woolies from the late 1930s – in Newquay (#730) – also now hosts a Poundland store, with the remaining portion occupied by the fashion retailer Peacocks.
The onset of the Second World War – and the resulting ten-year hiatus in Woolworths store openings – meant that no more Cornish stores opened until the 1950s, with the aforementioned Launceston and Redruth quickly followed by Truro (#836).
Here, again, Poundland has taken advantage of the opportunity presented by Woolworths’ demise. It initially took over the whole of the large ex-Woolworths site on a short-term lease, with the intention of taking a smaller unit on a more permanent basis once the property was divided up. Its store now occupies the building’s prime frontage at 13-15 Princes Street (which clearly predates Woolworths’ arrival), while the Lemon Quay side has been taken over by Cotswold Outdoor.
In St Ives (#863), another expanding outdoor retailer – Mountain Warehouse – has taken over part of the space vacated by Woolworths at 35-37 Fore Street.
The five-storey property is quite unusual for an ex-Woolworths in that it’s built into a steep hillside with access on two sides; this has allowed it to be divided in half horizontally following Woolies’ closure, but with both the upper and lower units retaining street-level access. While Mountain Warehouse on the second and third floors fronts the busy shopping thoroughfare of Fore Street, the two-storey harbourside unit below houses Pizza Express (still under construction when I visited, but now completed).
Reduth’s Big W aside, the final Woolworths to open in Cornwall was the store in the attractive town of Helston (#920), in 1956. Located at 31-33 Coinagehall Street, the property was only empty for a few months before being taken over by The Original Factory Shop in July 2009.
So, of the ten Cornish Woolworths stores that closed following Woolworths’ collapse, only the one in Falmouth remains vacant – but with a ground-floor sales area of 6,864 sq ft, the store isn’t so huge that it should be putting off potential occupants.
With many of the takers of Woolies stores elsewhere in the county not yet represented in Falmouth, local traders and shoppers will surely be hoping that Poundland, Poundstretcher or The Original Factory Shop steps in to the breach before long.