The Won­der of Woolies

Campbeltown Courier - - NEWS - Spon­sored by Camp­bel­town Her­itage Cen­tre Open 11am to 4pm every Mon­day to Thurs­day un­til Septem­ber

It was an un­happy new year in Jan­uary, nearly a decade ago, when Woolies fi­nally shut its Camp­bel­town doors. News first sur­faced that the iconic British re­tailer was in trou­ble in Novem­ber 2008, but Wool­worths stamped on the sug­ges­tion Camp­bel­town could close. Na­tion­ally the firm had be­come laden with debt and when it col­lapsed it owed £385 mil­lion. The brand’s fail­ure, just short of its cen­te­nary in the UK, cost 27,000 jobs and left 815 stores look­ing for a new owner. Within less than two months, on Jan­uary 2, the store of pick and mix pulled the shut­ters down. Built on the site of the Old Quay Head the store’s con­struc­tion was, be­lieve it or not, a con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion in its day. The old block of prop­er­ties was con­sid­ered be­yond ren­o­va­tion, and de­mol­ished. The orig­i­nal plan was for a modern mu­nic­i­pal build­ing, but this proved to be too ex­pen­sive. The site was sold at a price agreed by the dis­trict val­uer for what was thought the laugh­ably low sum of £2,100. The store took only months to build and opened in Au­gust 1963; at the time it was thought by many to be too modern and out of keep­ing. In the next 45 years it gained a firm place in the af­fec­tions of the town. Thought to be the orig­i­nal ‘five-and-dime’ busi­ness, Frank Win­field Wool­worth started his em­pire on Fe­bru­ary 22 1878, in Utica, New York, but it stum­bled and closed down quickly. A friend sug­gested Lan­caster, Penn­syl­va­nia as a bet­ter lo­ca­tion and Frank opened with his sign from the Utica store. It was a suc­cess and, in the Vic­to­rian age, he pi­o­neered many of the con­stants of 20th and 21st cen­tury re­tail­ing – mer­chan­dis­ing, di­rect pur­chas­ing and sales and cus­tomer ser­vices prac­tices still in use. It grew to be one of the largest re­tail chains in the world. In­creas­ing com­pe­ti­tion led to its de­cline in the 1980s and in Amer­ica it failed in 1997 four years later be­com­ing Foot Locker Inc. Since the UK Wool­worths col­lapse in 2009, al­most all premises have been filled, mainly by sim­i­lar types of stores sell­ing dis­counted goods. Ac­cord­ing to re­search com­pany Ra­dius, Pound­land owns the most ex-Wool­worth premises fol­lowed by Ice­land and B&M Bar­gains. Wool­worths has sur­vived in Aus­tria, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, Mex­ico and in Ger­many, with at least 500 stores na­tion­wide. Last week the town heard that The Orig­i­nal Fac­tory Shop which re­placed Wool­worths, at 1-3 Main Street, is also to pull out although there was much am­bi­gu­ity about the de­ci­sion.

Wool­worths’ staff gath­ered out­side the store, pho­tographed by Mal­colm McArthur.

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