Woolies opened in 1909 and survived two World wars, a depression and numerous recessions — but couldn’t last through a 21st century credit crunch.
However, the news of the demise of one of the oldest names in the High Street didn’t stop consumers across Northern Ireland yesterday wanting to take a bite out of the final reductions.
After it emerged Woolworths was £385m in debt it launched a closing down sale— with up to 50% off items. From early morning bargain hunters flocked to the doomed stores to pick over the last goods on the shelves.
At the store in Yorkgate, in north Belfast, chaotic scenes in the carpark reflected the mood inside the store.
Hundreds of people stood in queues — some with just one sought-after gift, others with trolleys spilling over with Christmas presents — for as long as 30 minutes.
Customers said they were sad to hear that the store which had stood the test of time for so long was on the brink of collapse.
Geraldine Tumelty (32), from Turf Lodge in Belfast, was amongst the hundreds who queued at the tills.
She said: “I just went and got all my Christmas shopping for the kids and managed to get most of it. The place was just packed out.
“I heard about this last night and thought I would come and try and get some bargains. It is sad to see Woolies go. I would have bought a lot of toys for the children, now I’ll have to look around.”
William Dorman, an office worker from north Belfast, said the shop holds many childhood memories for people.
“It will be missed. Woolworths holds a lot of memories for people, especially when they were children and going to get a bag of sweets or a toy,” he said.
“It seems to be, sadly, a sign of the times and the credit crunch.”
Care worker Sharon Ward (40), from the New Lodge area, said she felt bad for people facing losing their jobs before Christmas.
“It is sad for those people who are losing their jobs. I would have always got my children’s clothes at Woolworths. My oldest is 19-years-old now.”
But other customers who made the trip to the store said they felt that there weren’t enough 50% reductions. Lisa Barnes (25), from the Shankill area of Belfast, said: “I felt very sorry for the staff. I got some stocking fillers but there wasn’t 50% off everything. And the staff were the ones being pestered, and a lot of them had just found out about the place closing.”