Ex-Woolies spotting in Inverness, Dingwall and Blairgowrie
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If you like looking at shops and high streets, going on holiday to north west Sutherland, in Scotland – as I did earlier this month – isn’t necessarily the best choice.
The scenery is incredible, of course, but Spars and Costcutters are about as exciting as it gets retail-wise. For someone used to living in a city, the idea of the nearest proper high street and food superstore being an hour and a half away in Ullapool takes a bit of getting used to. Still, as you’d expect, I at least managed to work some ex-Woolworths sightseeing into my journey there and back.
First stop was the city of Inverness, which I last visited three years ago. At that time, the large 11,584 sq ft former Woolies store at 13-15 High Street (store #233) was still vacant following the chain’s collapse. Previously, Woolworths had traded there since 11 September 1926, with the property undergoing a ‘reskinning’ in 1964.
Thriving value chain Poundland moved in shortly afterwards, and is still trading there now, though the retained black granite stall riser and white-tiled surround ensure that the building’s Woolworths heritage is still easy to spot.
On the way back south again, I also stopped at the attractive (but rainy) town of Dingwall, where Woolworths opened store #1076 at 70-71 High Street on 14 June 1963.
As in many other smaller towns across the UK, that 4,090 sq ft property – vacated following Woolies’ 2008 administration – has been taken by the discount department store The Original Factory Shop, though the retained shopfront again makes its Woolworths history obvious.
Recent investment in the town’s public realm has ensured that Dingwall High Street looks attractive, and the welcome signs (below) at each of the main car parks – accompanied by clearly marked routes into the town centre – are a nice and useful touch.
However, while the town boasts many interesting independents, such as the mini-department store Cormacks & Crawfords, the departure of Au Naturale – Ethel Austin’s collapsed sister chain – from the redeveloped ex-Somerfield unit in 2010 continues to leave a big hole.
Down the road in Perthshire, the ex-Ethel Austin in my next destination of Blairgowrie has fared better, thanks again to The Original Factory Shop moving in. The former Peacocks store next door – victim of that chain’s collapse in 2012 – remains vacant, however.
Interestingly, not long after Woolworths’ demise, the Original Factory Shop first tried to enter Blairgowrie by taking the town’s 3,974 sq ft ex-Woolies unit at 25-29 Allan Street, but pulled out due to “buillding issues”.
After a stint as an independent pound shop, Poundsworth, the property – which opened as Woolworths store #1098 on 28 August 1964 – is currently in the process of being converted into a Wetherspoon pub, The Fair O’Blair, which is due to open on 11 June. Despite the extensive makeover that’s ongoing, it too looks like it’s going to retain its white Woolworths-era tiles.
So, three former Woolies sites in Scotland that have all kept some of the visual clues to their retail past – and, in the case of Blairgowrie, another one to add to my collection of ex-Woolworths that are now Wetherspoons, next time I’m up that way…
My retail consultancy business, CannyInsights.com, provides bespoke place- and sector-specific market intelligence, including coverage of ex-Woolworths locations nationwide. It also works with retailers 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.