Do you remember shopping in Woolies? The last Woolworths UK store closed its doors in 2009, but for many, it will forever be remembered as the place to shop for everything from tins of paint to American tan tights… and not forgetting the pick ’n’ mix!
Threepence and Sixpence to the Wonder of Woolworth
Considered by many to be a thoroughly British institution, Woolies began life in America as “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” when opened by founder Frank Winfield Woolworth in 1878. The business grew to become Woolworth Five-and-Ten Stores, and the first UK store was opened in Liverpool in 1909 under the banner of F.W. Woolworth & Co. Ltd. 3ᴰ and 6ᴰ Stores.
By 1934, a new store was opening somewhere in Britain every five days, and by 1945, there were 767 Woolworths Stores across the country. In the 1950s, a further 250 stores opened, with the 1000th UK Woolies opening its doors in 1958.
The ’60s saw the introduction of Winfield, the own label brand, and the first out-of-town Woolco store opened in 1967. Then, in 1971, decimalisation forced a change from counter service to self-service to avoid the huge cost of converting over 10 000 cash registers, a switch that took six years to complete.
As comments from Spring Chicken Facebook followers show, the big attraction for shoppers across the decades was not only great prices but also a great choice.
“You always knew you’d find what you wanted in good old Woolies!”
Woolies was a fantastic shop – it sold everything you needed, and it was a great meeting place for friends.
Christmas at Woolies
By the ’60s, Woolies had become almost synonymous with Christmas and it was the place to go for all things festive. In the 1970s, TV advertising was used to help boost Christmas sales, and a whole host of famous faces would appear each year, telling viewers about the “Wonder of Woolworths” as they mingled with shoppers in a bustling store: Tony Blackburn smiled as he pointed out a record player; Henry Cooper grinned over a display of Brut aftershave; Jimmy Young wandered through the aisles pointing out ladies handbags and children’s toys, and Leslie Crowther gave us the low-down on the huge selection of Magnus and Bontempi organs…
Loved Woolies! Used to buy Dinky toys with my brother, stamps for my album, records and perfume when I got older, and I remember egg shampoo! Little square blocks of bath salts…
In 1978, two Christmas adverts had to be made to cram in all the celebrities willing to push products.
They included Pat Combes, Barry Sheen, Anita Harris, Windsor Davies, Stirling Moss, Harry Secombe, Diddy David Hamilton, Magnus Pyke, Kenny Everett, and David Nimmo. They showed us a Waltham TV set that could be ours for just £59.95; a Stylophone for £10.95; a Lloytron record player for £39.95; a selection of annuals costing just £1.35; a Bionic Watch for £7.89; Monopoly for £2.49, or we could simply buy gift vouchers starting at a value of 50p. Interestingly, a box of Christmas cards could be had for 39p, but if you wanted a 2.5kg tin of Quality Street, that would set you back £4.54 – and that was a special offer at £1 off!
Something for Everyone
All the way back to the ’50s, the Spring Chicken Community look back fondly on the days of Woolies:
“Loved Woolies in the ’50s. On Saturday mornings, my friends and I would hang around the makeup counter trying out the lipsticks on our hands and getting shooed off by the counter assistant. We always sidled back when she wasn’t watching.”
“I remember their records on the Embassy label back in the 1960s. About 2 shillings cheaper than record shops – but unknown artists!”
And many remember getting their first job in Woolworths:
I worked on a Saturday in Woolies in the early 70s while I was still at school. I loved it. I got to talk all day and got paid for it too. 99p in my wage packet after stoppages, and 7.5p for a two-course lunch in the canteen. I miss Woolies, they seemed to sell just about everything. Happy Days!
All Good Things…
But, all good things come to an end, and by the time the final Woolworths store closed its doors in 2009, 27 000 employees had lost their jobs. Spring Chicken Facebook followers question why such a popular store ever closed, but perhaps nostalgia clouds our view. Is it Woolies we miss, or is it simpler times in our lives?
It was a fantastic shop, but we were easily pleased back in the day!