For a change, this blog is coming to you from Yorkshire, where I am on a short post-Christmas break. This morning I was walking down the main street of a local market town, and as I did so I passed a Woolworths store. As readers may know, the Woolworths chain in the UK is closing down. It was originally the UK (and Irish) branch of the US retail chain, F.W. Woolworth, but was sold off by the latter in the early 1980s – around the same time that the stores closed in Ireland.
My earliest memory of Woolworths was of their shop in Mullingar, where we moved (from Germany) when I was seven years old. It was (if I recall correctly) the only retail chain store in Mullingar at the time, and as far as I was concerned it was a place of absolute and pure magic. I remember walking into it for the first time – and I had never seen anything like it in my life. I suspect that if I saw it now I would not be too impressed, but at the time it was a wonderful store. It had toys, it had sweets, it had household goods – it seemed to have everything. The first time I ever had any serious money in my own pocket – 10 shillings, to be precise, a birthday present – I walked into Woolworths and bought a View-Master and (for some reason I cannot now recall) a sweeping brush.
Back then I walked out of Woolworths in Mullingar, and from my sense of excitement and pride I could have been coming out of Tiffanys in New York. Today I walked round the now half empty shelves of the about-to-close store and could see immediately why it could no longer work. In the US the parent company still exists, but you would need to be well informed to realise that, as it is now Foot Locker: it has re-focused and re-branded. The UK chain, selling bits of this and that without any clear identity, could not survive – its demise was hastened along by the current recession, but it was bound to come anyway.
So farewell then, Woolworths. The end was bound to come, but I still remember my first independent purchases there with great affection.