The wonder of woolies!

No, not the knitted variety, although we do indeed need the woolly pully these days here in the UK, but the wonder of woolies going into administration. A sad day for Woolworths - what a pity that it won't quite make its 100th anniversary in the UK.

When it opened its doors to the great British public in Liverpool in 1909 crowds flocked to buy its cheap goods and the chain store created by American sales assistant, F. W Woolworth, went from strength to strength. It seems rather ironical to me that the cheap sixpenny store that grew out of the era of mass production has succumbed to the financial crisis just when the country seems to be going through a revival of an austerity phase where cheap and cheerful will (or is) becoming once again more fashionable. But poor old Woolies made a loss of £72.5 million in the six months to August 2 and no shining knight in white armour came to its rescue. It is indeed the end of an era though the UK stores outlasted its US parent, which closed its final Woolworths in 1997.

I have genuine concern and affection for Woolworths for two reasons: concern as to what will happen to the book wholesaler, Bertrams, which was acquired by the group just 15 months ago. The Competition Commission approved the acquisition because Woolworths management announced that it would increase its focus on books and grow its share of the market, taking advantage of its "massive presence on the high street" and "an enviable set of loyal customers," which just goes to prove that you should never listen to management speak.

And affection because my very first job as a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl was with Woolworths in Palmerston Road, Southsea. There, for four hours on a Saturday, and during the school holidays, I learnt how to operate a till, be nice to customers, (even the smelly and horrible ones) slice cheese without chopping off a finger, cut iced fruit cake, weigh the pick and mix sweets, (occasionally dropping one or two, which then became so damaged they had to be destroyed instantly by eating) and of course getting the creme-de-la-creme of jobs, to serve on the make-up counter (and demonstrate the odd eye shadow and lipstick).

At the risk of making me sound as ancient as Methuselah, Woolworths then had wooden floors, central counters - none of this self-service stuff - and had wonderful fresh cheese, meat and cake counters. I learnt all about decimalisation, so if you're clever you can work out how old I am. And I got to take home my first wage in a little manila envelope - bliss.

So, I say thank you Woolworths for those very fond memories. The high street won't be the same without you.

P.S. Let's hope Bertrams finds itself a good new master or mistress.


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