FW Woolworths Store Closures

It was with sadness that I read that the last few remaining FW Woolworth's stores in the UK were closing today, after selling off everything from the remainder of their stock to staff lockers, and even the baskets in the shop!

I recall when the chain pulled out of the Republic in the late 1980s, having been a magnet for me as a kid. In fact, not only was my Mother's first job in a Woolworth's store in Dublin, so was my Grandmother's first job. They were one of the first stores in the Republic to use the self service format in Dublin, which made them very attractive to consumers (and shoplifters!)

I also remember that when the chain pulled out of the south, they remained in Northern Ireland, which made family trips to South and East coast County Down even more attractive and novel to us, even as bored teenagers. So I was sad to hear that even there, the chain is no more.

I was rather curious to note on a trip to New South Wales last year that a supermarket chain exists with the same name, albeit entirely unrelated. In fact the "Woolworths" brand name in Australia is nothing to do with the FW Woolworth chain in the UK (or its original parent in the USA, but based on the concept). In fact its not only the largest supermarket chain in Australia, but has a large presence in New Zealand and South Africa. Curiously enough, the Wikipedia entry for the group mentions that some of its stores were previously known as Crazy Prices and Safeways.

Safeways, of course, was a large chain (UK based ) that was bought out mainly by Morrisons, although many stores were carved up between its competitors, and is now effectively defunct. However, in Northern Ireland, the stores were bought out by ASDA (i.e. WalMart). Likewise, Irish consumers will not be unfamiliar with the Crazy Prices brand, which existed both north and south of the border as part of what was more commonly known known as Quinnsworth in the south and Stewarts in the north, part of Associated British Foods, which of course was acquired by Tesco in the mid 1990s. All of course, are plain old Tesco nowadays, which to some extent blitzed the idea that they were separate stores (a curious illusion which I recall also leading to the comment that an "Irish" business was falling into "British" hands, when in fact it was "British" all along!!)

Now I do also recall a store brand, which I think only existed at some point north of the border, called "Woolies" which was yet another chain. However I can't find out anything about them, and haven't seen one in at least 15 years, though I've probably been north of the border about 5 times since 2001 so its probably long since gone.

What to me seems to have killed off Woolworths is the proliferation of the "pound shop", and decimation of the recorded music industry. The latter simply hasn't recovered, not just from online music sales or allegations of piracy but from the simple commoditization of recorded media. I couldn't help, for example noticing yesterday in a DVD/cd store in Douglas, Cork, that even movies less than 12 months old are now selling for "budget" prices. The reality is, there are just so many of them!! There was simply nothing unique about their business model any more and they failed to come up with anything new. With Zavvi set to follow, it will be interesting to see who falls next.


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