Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Woolworths last UK store closes its doors

The last remaining Woolworths stores in the UK will close their doors for the final time at the end of trading today.

The closures bring to an end a massive clearance sale which even saw the stores’ fixtures and fittings sold off at bargain prices.

The collapse leaves 27,000 workers redundant.

The last Northern Ireland stores closed on January 3. Two of the company’s biggest outlets at Belfast Yorkgate and Coleraine were among 200 that shut their doors last Saturday.

Last month, shops in Armagh, Ballymena, Enniskillen and Lurgan were among the first to close while branches in Bangor, Banbridge, Connswater and Londonderry shut on December 30.

Woolworths’ 807 stores have been closing in tranches throughout the final weeks of December after selling off stock, fixtures and fittings at discount prices.

The final 200 were expected to close in England and Scotland yesterday but administrator Deloitte gave the chain a brief reprieve to shift stock and allow final arrangements to be made.

Deloitte would not confirm how much money has been raised by the stock sale but many stores have been emptied by bargain hunters.

It has held talks with other retailers to take on the leases of around 300 Woolworths stores and hopes to sell off the Ladybird children’s clothes and Chad Valley toys brands.

Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Theo Paphitis showed an interest in buying parts of the collapsed chain.

But after days of negotiation at the start of last month, Mr Paphitis, who made his fortune by turning around companies including stationery business Ryman and the Contessa and La Senza lingerie chains, said it had not been possible to reach a deal with administrators from Deloitte.

When it collapsed Woolworths had become a rather old-fashioned throwback to another retail era, but it was once a unique and ground-breaking company.

Frank Winfield Woolworth was one of the first retailers to embrace mass-production to keep costs and prices down.

When the first British store opened in Liverpool nearly a century ago long queues formed and the shelves were nearly stripped bare after the first day's trading.

Everything was priced at sixpence (2.5p) and customers snapped up everything from sweets to tin toys, crockery and glassware.

It was the first time household items had been made available at such affordable everyday prices to the British public.

It was such a hit that from the mid-1920s the company was inundated with letters from local authorities, asking them to open in their town. At one point a new store was emerging every 17 days.

Founder Frank Woolworth put the success down to “the great buying power that allows us to drive prices lower by helping factories to make their goods more cheaply”.

Woolies eventually came under British ownership in 1982. It outlasted the US parent, which closed its final Woolworths stores in 1997.

But recent years have not been kind to Woolworths as increasingly shoppers have turned to supermarkets or the internet to gain better value.

The stores made a £72.5m loss in the six months to August 2.

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