A part of my childhood is biting the dust: the six-penny store Woolworths is going bottoms up, it seems. With debts of over 300 million quid and no prospective buyer in sight (except for some of the outlets in prime areas), Woolies is on the brink of extinction.
Customers mourned the giant’s demise by plundering the shelves in a pre-Christmas sale crazy shopping binge. It is the people with the sharpest elbows who win the best prizes. Either that – or perhaps consumer-happy shoppers bashed their way to the tills with walking sticks and Zimmer frames.
I feel a certain sadness: even though I wasn’t really brought up in England until I was gone 10 – I still remember Woolworths with fondness. It is an institution – like royalty, tea drinking, discussing the weather and queuing in orderly lines (except for when the sales are on). I always thought it was a British institution to boot – until I discovered that it is an American export that the Brits have taken into their ample bosom and loved for 99 years.
I remember walking the two miles to Woolworths with my sisters and brother in order to buy a small bag of Pick ‘N Mix sweets. After terms of having a tuck box locked away by teachers, it was a paradise found to be able to rummage freely among the Sweethearts, the sherbet lemons, the spongy dentures, the fluffy chocolate-covered teddy bears; oh – those rhubarb and custard fragments of delicous-ness, those pear drops with their slightly strange aftertaste. And best of all, they always had my favourite brand of pink and white fluffy marshmallows in stock.
Woolworths was my destination when I wanted to buy a box of Black Magic for my dad’s Christmas present, or maybe Milk Tray for my mum (the chocs were so delicious that in the 70s, they made grown men dive into shark-infested waters to deliver them to their beloved)!
Judging by people’s comments on the Internet, many of them experimented with shoplifting as kids in Woolworths’ aisles. And if you really push me, I might go as far as to confess that the odd sweetie or ten might have slunk its way down into my tummy before I paid for my little bag of sweets… But sshh! That’s our little secret!
In recent years, when back in the UK, I’ve always popped into Woolies to buy Thomas the Tank engine pajamas for Anklebiter #2 and Dora the Explorer jeans for Anklebiter #1. Or to browse through their buckets of CDs and DVDs.
Where else can you find fishing gear, batteries and a cheap kettle next to each other but in Woolies? And there’s the suntan lotion – next to the cookie jars! Woolies is an Aladdin’s cave: you can buy everything and nothing there.
That is its charm – and now, it seems, its downfall.