Belfast Telegraph

Could Woolworths make Northern Ireland comeback? Former director bids for high street return

Could Woolworths make a comeback to Northern Ireland high streets after almost a decade out of business?

Former director of the brand Tony Page has said he is still emotionally attached to the famous old name and has made approaches to buy it.

In an interview with the Daily Star, Mr Page said he would be more interested in opening stores "in the heart of communities" rather than in big shopping centres.

He said that he has approached the brand's current owner Shop Direct and asked if it would be interested in selling the name to someone who would.

"I still think it has got a role in the future," he told the paper. "It is much easier to walk down the road than to order on Amazon."

Mr Page described the closure of the shops and with it the loss of thousands of jobs as "traumatic" admitting he still carried the pain but said it was the only possible option.

"It was a huge disappointment when Woolies closed," he told us, "people had worked there for decades, and for them they had lost their careers, jobs and their livelihoods.

"I strongly believe the core of Woolworths, however, was – and still could be – a strong and prosperous business."

Woolworths went into administration in 2008 after racking up debts of hundreds of millions of pounds. It had 800 stores employing some 27,000 across the UK at the time with 11 shops in Northern Ireland with the final few closing their doors for the final time at the beginning of 2009.

It's first shop in Belfast opened in 1915.

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.

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.

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