That’s the Wonder of Woolworths … plus elephants!

That’s the Wonder of Woolworths … plus elephants

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F.W. Woolworth was the retail phenomenon of the twentieth century. The mass-market shop sold factory-made goods at rock bottom prices. It was the first brand to go global, building more than 3,000 near-identical stores across the world. 

The first Woolworth store was opened by Frank Winfield Woolworth on February 22, 1878, as “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York. 

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Store-front 1879

The very first British branch of Woolworth’s was founded by Frank Woolworth in 1909 in Liverpool. 

Opened 5th November 1909 at 25-25a Church Street with a second entrance in Williamson Street, the well appointed mahogany panelled store had previously been a posh hat shop. It boasted three salesfloors, with a restaurant on the top floor, china and glass on the first floor and notions at ground level.  A third floor provided stockroom accomodation with buying offices at the top of the building. Church Street provided the first Head Office through until 1914.  New premises were built on the former site of Liverpool Anglican Pro-Cathedral at 22-36 Church Street and opened in 1923. They were extended to add a basement salesfloor in 1936 and an upper salesfloor after World War II, being fully refurbished in both 1959 and 1970 and getting a further facelift in 1979.  The store, which was the symbolic home of Woolworths, was unceremoniously closed and disposed of as one of the first actions by Kingfisher in 1982, shutting its doors in January 1983.  A new City Centre Woolworths was opened in the St John's Centre (about half a mile away) on 18th October 1990 and this was extended to include a mezzanine floor on 1st February 1995.

Part of its magic was an ability to adapt to fit into different local communities and to ‘go native’, without sacrificing its identity. Shoppers in the UK considered ‘Woolies’ as British as fish and chips, while Americans continued to call the chain ‘the five-and-ten’ more than sixty years after the limits were dropped.

But, having risen like a meteor, all the way to the top, it faded into a peaceful retirement in the USA and Canada in the 1990s, before falling like a stone in the UK in 2008. The British chain went from normal trading in 800 stores to complete shutdown in just 41 days.

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When I was growing up in North London during the 1950s and 1960s my favourite shop was Woolworths. And what with this being the 1951 Club, I would be sadly failing in my duty were I not to give you just at least a couple of 1951-related facts.

Opened on 19.10.51. Modernised and converted to self-service 03.05.73.  Operation focus relay and facelift 1987.

 This is the Woolston store in Southampton. It was opened in October 1951.

Now, the branch I frequented as a lad was situated on High Road, Whetstone, North London. It was opened during the late 1920s.

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Here it is in all its glory!

But I recently  came across a very unexpected picture of my Woolworth store, taken sometime in 1951. It made me very happy.

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High Road, Whetstone. Bobby Roberts circus comes to town in 1951.

That was the Wonder of Woolworths …

Woolworths Museum

UK Store Finder

Happy Trails.

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23 responses to “That’s the Wonder of Woolworths … plus elephants!

  1. I think the closing of our local Woolies in East Sheen was the final straw that made us up sticks and move to Crete!

  2. The pick n mix at Woolies was the finest anywhere in the world!

  3. Reblogged this on Barrow Blogs: and commented:
    loved this!

  4. I remember as a child that the Woolies in Oldham’ always had a certain smell of its own and the floors were all shiny, slippery wood.

  5. Loved Woolworths and elephants too! Lol! Thanks for sharing! Will follow! Nice to find your blog!

  6. Belinda Crane

    Loved this article Chris. We too have Woolworths down here in Australia. Loved finding out the history of it! 🙂

  7. I loved the fact that you could go into Woolies and buy broken biscuits, which were cheaper than those that were not broken. It was like a pick and mix counter with all the biscuits behind a glass counter. You pointed at what you wanted and a kind assistant would put them into a bag and weigh them so you knew how much pocket money you were about to spend.

    Our Angel, which sits on top of our Christmas tree every Christmas, was bought in Woolies back in the 1980’s. I only wish I had the tree lights also purchased at the same time as they can sell for quite a lot of money on a certain internet auction site.

    • Heavenly broken biscuits. They also sold Airfix kits and the little boxes of toy soldiers. Remember buying paper-chains and decorations. Thanks so much for dropping by. All the best.

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