Woolworths – or ‘Woolies’

A few years ago I wrote a post in this blog about High Street shops which have disappeared from our towns. This time I am focusing one single store, our beloved Woolies which disappeared for ever more than ten years ago. Readers in other countries might not be familiar with the chain but might well have similar stores they remember as fondly.

Woolworths started out in the UK in 1909 as F. W. Woolworth & Co., part of the American company that was established in 1879. The first store was on Church Street in Liverpool and sold children’s clothing, stationery and toys. Woolworths took off in the mid-1920s with stores opening as often as every two to three weeks. By 2008 there were 807 Woolworths stores. In November 2008 Woolworths Group entered administration with Deloitte, and by early January 2009 all of its stores had closed.

woolworths 1950's | The good old days, My childhood memories, Childhood  memories

As we lived in the countryside, towns with Woolworths were only visited occasionally which is what made the shop all the more exciting, especially to we three children.

When I was young a visit to Woolies was second only to a visit to Santa’s Grotto. Our trips to a major town with a Woolies happened only a few times a year. Cardiff, for example, was a two hour drive away so a it was major expedition on 1950s roads with three children in the back. Necessities were seen to first. If it was a Christmas shopping trip we looked for presents, if it was to buy new winter coats and shoes or new summer clothes for anyone – never the whole family at once, money was tight! – we went to C and A’s, Littlewoods or British Home Stores first. Then, when the serious shopping was done, we went to Woolies. Our reward for not moaning too much as we trailed around the shops was that wonderful treat – the Woolies Pick and Mix. It was always near the entrance so you could smell the sweet, sugary smell as you went through the door. My mum was really fussy about our teeth so being given permission to choose a bag of Pick and Mix was heaven! Near the sweet stall there was always a peanut roaster and my dad, who loved nuts, would buy himself a bag of hot, rosted, salted peanuts. They were measured out from the roaster into a paper bag. He was happy with his peanuts, we were more than happy with our bags of Pick and Mix.

Splendid 20th Century Pictures of British Woolworths - Flashbak

When we were very young, if we ever had a bit of pocket money to spend on one of these outings, my sister and I used to head straight to the jewellery stall in Woolies. We’re not talking Cartier here! They were cheap trinkets – and we loved them! My sister once spent her pocket money on a little ‘gold’ ring which promptly got bent and then completely stuck on her finger. My dad had so much trouble getting it off before the circulation in her finger stopped altogether! When we were older the three of us used to choose stationery or books or occasionally a record. Not an LP, just a single ( a 45), which would then be played to death when we got home.

Kingsbury Woolworths – Store 538 | Woolies Buildings - Then and Now

I remember that the floors were always wooden in Woolies. I also remember buying a Christmas tree decoration there once – which I still have.

William Pell - Career in Focus

Major shopping centres such as Swansea and Cardiff were such a long drive away from where we lived that it was always a full day’s expedition. Inevitably, this involved a lunch stop in a cafe or a cafeteria. Such a treat for we country bumpkins!! The Wimpy Bars were one of our choices, also a cafe called Peter Jones, and lastly, a big favourite – the Woolies cafeteria. The cafes we went to when we were on holiday were places where waitresses in black with white pinnies took your order on a notepad at your table – which had a tablecloth on it. Cafeterias, were new, modern, shiny, wipe-clean and self-service.

Retail – Woolworth's History – Strategy & Innovation

Years later, as an adult in the 1970s, I appreciated Woolworths in a completely different way. By this time I was living and working in a town and could go to Woolies any time. I could buy dress patterns and fabric, saucepans and crockery, even plants and bulbs for the garden.

In the 1980s, I would go to Woolies with my children to buy stationery, socks, PE T-shirts and bags for school. There was a photo booth there where I would get their bus pass photographs taken every August ready for the new school year. Whenever I was in town and needed something which didn’t fit in to any other shop category I knew I’d find it in Woolies.

As always, credit to Google Images and Wikipedia. I make every effort to use only images which are available for use but if anyone objects to the inclusion of any image in this post please contact me and I will remove it.

32 thoughts on “Woolworths – or ‘Woolies’

  1. Very happy memories of Woolworths,as a child Dad used to get hot salted peanuts from them every Saturday which we would eat after tea whilst watching “Wagon Train” on TV . As I got older and started to take an interest in pop music I would cover versions on Woolworths “Embassy “ record label ,often preferring the “Embassy “ version to the one in the top ten.

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  2. What warm-hearted memories! I also have fond but dimmer memories of the Woolies in Beeston, Notts, but do remember the cornucopia of dazzling cheap treasures, certainly a one-stop shop for children to buy affordable small birthday or Christmas gifts with pocket money. We also had Woolies here in Canada (although never referred to as such) complete with lunch counters up until the late 80’s. Another stalwart and comparable Canadian chain was Zellers, much missed, gone within the last 8 years. Thank you for continuing to post, Meryl, in these troubling times!

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  3. Wonderful Woolworths! What great memories I have from the 1950’s. My friends and I would always go to see the latest toys, and we were always buying a toy and how we loved the water pistols in the summer’s of the 50’s. There was a Woolworths a few blocks for my home back then and one more downtown and one uptown also. Great post!

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  4. Our town had a Woolworth, complete with lunch counter. They also had a Hi-Fi speaker on the outside that played the current top 20 or so records. It was a clever way to lure customers inside to browse the “45” bins. My most vivid memory was when my mother took me to Woolworth’s to buy Christmas presents for my considerably older and married siblings. As I recall, matching glass salt and pepper shakers seemed a good idea and within budget. Mom had somehow persuaded me that goldfish, available from the “pet department”, might not be the ideal gift for giving. Great memories!

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  5. I worked as a counter girl at Woolworth’s in Berlin, New Hampshire in 1983. It was a good incentive to apply to graduate school down state. At least I got four short stories out of the deal. (When you’re lonely and want to talk to the counter girl at Woolworth’s while having your coffee and doughnuts, watch what you say–or she will steal your stories.)

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  6. Took the bus to downtown Norfolk, Virginia shopping with my mother and sister as a kid in the 50’s & 60’s. Woolworths counter was always our destination for lunch. Think I ordered grilled cheese or a BLT sandwich with a glass of coca-cola. Always a treat for us. We had a Ben Franklin 5 and 10cent store in our small town of South Norfolk (a borough of Norfolk at that time). Fond memories.

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  7. I remember my Mom taking me to woolies in Long Beach Ca. to get school clothes !! This was in the early 1970s… we always went to the counter to get food or ice cream…. great memories!!!

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    • Lovely memories! Thanks for sharing. I bought my three daughters’ school clothes in Woolies in the 80s. And my own memories of Woolies are from the 50s. What a brilliant store, spanning the decades and the continents!

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  8. I had forgotten the term “Woolies” from my time living in Cardiff, Wales, and hearing it brought back memories. Ditto their Embassy knock-off records.
    The cafeteria was great, clean and spacious. Loved their shepherds pie.

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  9. I think the only things I used to buy from Woolworths when I was young were make-up and watch-straps!! (I had a watch that took slide-through straps and at the time Woolies sold some lovely suede ones… I remember a pink and a blue one). But the thing I remember most is where that Woolworths was… in the middle of the street I had lived in when I was a child and actually on the site of the house I’d lived in! Our house had had a Compulsory Purchase Order placed on it by the council and we’d had to move out: Woolies was built there. I used to go in afterwards and fancy I was standing in the entrance hall when in fact I was between the pick and mix aisles!!

    Later – in adulthood – I took to buying albums there. I still miss the place.

    Another memory-jerker, thanks!

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