That’s the Wonder of Woolworths … plus elephants
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.
The very first British branch of Woolworth’s was founded by Frank Woolworth in 1909 in Liverpool.
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.
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.
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.
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.
High Road, Whetstone. Bobby Roberts circus comes to town in 1951.
That was the Wonder of Woolworths …