The probable end of Woolworth’s as a beacon or scion of the High Street has caused almost everyone I know to say how sorry they feel about it. This is because everyone thinks of it as a quintessentially British institution, although, like Kellogg’s, another brand name that the British often think originated here, it was as American as Walmart. It has only been British for the last twenty years or so, the parent group having first shed its international branches, and (after an intervening name) reinventing itself as ‘Foot Locker’.
What they really feel sorry for (in addition to regret at the jobs that will go) is that Change has struck again, and that their childhood memories of wandering around the tacky nick-nacks (should that be knick-knacks?) have been formally consigned to probable oblivion. The song (we can all sing it) ‘That’s the wonder of Woolworth’s’ has always been a little ironic, but, to a child, it was indeed wonderful, because you could actually buy something there, usually plastic and of no value but possibly a bit sparkly, with just a couple of coins, or even a single one. But for a long time, it has been a sort of High Street dodo: I can’t think of a single thing you could buy in Woolies that you couldn’t get elsewhere, and would probably prefer to get elsewhere. Perhaps the one good marketing trick it seemed to pull off (this is not universal, and it’s just me hazarding a guess) is that most Woolworth’s stores represented a thoroughfare: in the larger towns, at any rate, they have two or more entrances, and shoppers therefore have had to walk through Woolies on the way to somewhere else. So there was half a chance of an impulse buy – although of what, it’s been hard to guess for some time.
I’ve been trying to think of anything that I’ve bought in Woolies over the last ten years. I’m not a sweet-eater, so that’s the Pick’n’Mix (probably its staple, and situated by the doors) out of the equation. I think it might have been a roll of Sellotape, or possibly a roll of Christmas paper, some time in the 1990s. (Incidentally, and you can expect much more blog-bah-humbug as we reach the last four ‘shopping weeks’ until Christmas, is there anything which more pointless than wrapping paper? A whole industry exists on the production of something that is quickly discarded. Or perhaps I hate wrapping-paper because frankly, I am rubbish at wrapping. Humbug, by the way, although presumably popularised by Dickens, appears to be at least 260 years old, with a sense of hoax or fraud, and is of obscure derivation, although I’d guess at Hum, as in ‘I don’t believe it’ plus Bah, i.e. it’s Bah-hum-bah. )
So there it is. The end of another era. We did not weep for Gateway, for Safeway, for Timothy White, for Our Price, for Dillon’s, for Menzies, or indeed for the VG. And with Woolies, as Shakespeare nearly wrote, the wonder is it hath endur’d so long. But grown men and women all over the country are still coming to grips with the fact that the top tat shop has gone into administration, with its red-letter logo, and its bright-lit aisles.
Sic transit ingloria.