Woolworths… there is an alternative…

I have fond memories of Woolworths. Being a child of the 70s, I grew up spending lots of time and money in there. It was a regular place to shop not only at weekends, but after school too – we’d go into the Harlesden store and check out the stationery (remember those Helix pencil case tins containing a compass, protractor, pencil sharpener and those triangles he hardly used? How about the Winfield brand of exercise books?). At the weekends it was a bit more leisurely as we browsed the 7-inch singles and cassettes in their extensive music section.

What else did Woolworths have? If you needed to do a bit of home decorating or gardening then you could pickup all you need here. Clothing (remember the Ladybird brand and those essential black plimsolls we wore for PE in primary school?) homeware (crockery) entertainment (video cassettes) toys and games, dyes for clothes, needles and thread, balls of wool, electrical items and we can’t forget their legionary Pick and Mix sweets. All-in-all, a super selection of goods at reasonable prices all under one roof.

When news of the closure of all UK stores was announced, I, like thousands of others, were totally bewildered and stunned. How could Woolworths disappear from our high streets? We had built up a close, trusting, long lasting relationship with the store that should have lasted forever. Woolworths stores died in 2009 and many people are still grieving.

I am one of those loyal Woolworth customers who are still grieving. Just two weeks ago whilst going through a drawer I found two small boxes of staples bearing the Woolworths logo. I still have a CD single Dirrty by Christina Aguilera I brought from the Leighton Buzzard branch in 2003. When I moved to Urmston in 2007, there was a Woolworths on Station Road. Two years later it went into administration.

… with a headline like “Woolworths to return to our high street” or “Woolies is back!”

It was last week when this realisation stuck me…

I had dropped my trusty Mazda 3 off at the dealer in Warrington for its annual service. I left the car with them and walked to Golden Square shopping centre. After a coffee, my stroll around the shopping centre led me to Wilko. Aha! I needed a small ceramic roasting dish as the one at home has a huge crack in it. I found one almost immediately as I entered the store. I spent the next fifteen minutes wandering around Wilko and being rather impressed with their product selection. I hadn’t visited a Wilko in years but the shop felt strangely familiar. That’s when the the realisation struck me… Wilko is the modern day Woolworths!

I wasn’t thinking about Woolworths when I entered the store, but there must be some similarity between Woolworths and Wilko for that realisation to pop into my mind. If the Wilko branding were switched overnight to Woolworths, very few people would raise an eyebrow of surprise to the items on display.

The thing that rubber-stamped the idea that Wilko is the modern day Woolworths was the Pick and Mix sweets! Think of Woolworths and one of the first things that come to mind is their Pick and Mix. I left Wilko feeling like I’d had a tiny nostalgic treat.

It’s a good sign when you go into a shop for one thing but come away a few more and say to yourself yourself “I must come here again soon.” – I nipped into Wilko for a ceramic roasting dish and left with not only a roasting dish but also a packet of allergy tablets, bath salts and mouthwash. I also wanted to buy non-bio washing liquid, a mop and bucket and a dinner set, but the thought of being overloaded on the walk back to the car dealership put a stop to that idea. I’m now a fan of Wilko.

Hardcore Woolworths fans might say ‘… but do Wilko have a music and video games section?’ I didn’t notice a music or video games section, but with the popularity downloads and the mighty Amazon, it probably does not make good business acumen in 2023.

I enjoyed my visit to Wilko and I do plan to visit a store closer to home really soon. I wonder how the many fans of Woolworths now shop at Wilko…

Every once in a while a media rumour appears with a headline like “Woolworths to return to our high street” or “Woolies is back!” There were never any substance behind these headlines and I never took them seriously, but, If someone did step forward with a load of cash and purchased the Woolworths UK brand and reopened stores, I would seriously question their logic. Whilst consumers like myself would dash through the doors to relive fond memories from the yesteryears, the question from me would be what would they do differently to stand out from the rest of their competitors… how would they differentiate and be better than Wilko?

I have fond memories of Woolworths. It was a huge part of my childhood, teenage years, 20s and early 30s. The fond memories and love of Woolworths will always be with me. The second sad ending would be the excitement of a return, only for it to fail again and tarnish its reputation further – just like a legendary boxer making a return to the ring after retirement with their peak years are behind them, only to be sadly hammered by a younger, fitter and more agile competitor.

Further essential retro reading

  1. C&A – you’ll love the look
  2. Woolworths: an imaginary return
  3. Wilko – the history

Five jolly good reasons why you need to subscribe to Retrohen:

  • Original fun unique retro posts – none of this cutting and pasting cheating stuff.
  • Landing straight to your inbox – no need for any internet searching.
  • No pop-ups to distract your reading pleasure.
  • No annoying adverts flashing in your face.
  • There are some sites, that once you’ve subscribed, you wish you hadn’t – with Retrohen you’ll only receive nostalgic memories.

3 thoughts on “Woolworths… there is an alternative…”

  1. Gosh I remember that Woolies on Harlesden High Street! There are three things I specifically remember always shopping for: pick n’ mix (of course!) Those little boxes of After Eight mints that came five in a pack, and letter-writing stationary (goodness knows why!) The Wembley branch was another one that I used to frequent. The high street hasn’t been the same since Woolworths went. I do remember the first time I went into Wilkinson (as it was then known as) and saw the Pick n’ Mix stand, it did bring back memories of Woolworths. But I never did think of it as the modern day equivalent until reading this post

    1. Yes, I agree, Harlesden wasn’t the same when Woolworths left. I remember Woolworths being well stocked with stationary. Next tike you’re over in England, pop into a Wilko and see if you get that Woolworths feeling 😀
      Thanks for your comment.

      1. No worries. And yes – next time I’m around I shall pay close attention to whether or not I’m getting that Woolies vibe! 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.