Friday, January 20, 2012

Woolworth staff win compensation - and not in pick n' mix either



The news that former staff at Woolworths have been awarded a total of 67.8 million (what no pound sign on this infernal computer??) in compensation for losing their jobs in 2008, made me incredibly happy.

Not so much because they deserved 60 day's pay, although they probably did for the trauma of having to work at Woolworths - rather that it gave me a semi-legitimate excuse for a shameless repost.

It seemed my first post in Brits was on the closure of Woolworths, back in 2008. Nobody commented back then so just one comment will give me a 100 percent increase in popularity, although this is probably incorrect because anything times zero is still zero isn't it? OK I sucked at maths. It wasn't just the hatred of Mr. Murphy that led me to drop out. Talking of which I find myself sublimely dropping out now. And taking blissful solace in repost heaven.

THE DEMISE OF WOOLWORTHS

When I was growing up in England in the 1970s we didn't have a visit to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory to aspire to.

The closest thing was the pick 'n' mix section of Woolworths, a vast glittering realm of cheap candies and hardboiled sweets, normally positioned near the door that helped cement its nickname of 'pick 'n' steal.'

I never met a kid who hadn't swiped at least a couple of candies and even parents turned a blind eye.
In those days you could buy enough candies to fill a small wheelbarrow for 50p.

Like Woolworths itself the chocolates in the pick 'n' mix aisle would melt under the glare of a connoisseur, although there weren't too many of those around until the '80s.

It's, therefore, mind boggling to imagine a bag of "Woolies" pick 'n' mix selling for £14,500 as one did on eBay this weekend - the highest of 115 bids that were received..

The 800 gram bag was sold by Ed Adams, the former manager of the Petts Wood store in Kent, who picked it up before his store closed for the last time.

I can imagine Mr. Adams standing in the store with a large Gothic bunch of keys in his hand, ready to lock up the last store in the country for the last time, switching off the lights strip by strip on a cold winter night.

His tear smudged eye falls on a bag of candy the liquidators had missed on the empty shelves and and he picks it up and rescues it.

But I'm sure it didn't happen like that.

Still the demise of Woolworths, with the last of its 807 British stores closing on Jan. 5, is sad for anyone who grew up with the Great British institution that was actually American.

The psychological loss was described in an article in the International Herald Tribune.

F.W. Woolworth closed down in 2001 in the United States, reinventing itself as Foot Locker Inc., but the British company - long separated from its U.S. parent - remained as what the article described as a "symbol of something, a vestige of a simpler past when the country had few department stores and no giant retailers, when shopping still seemed like a treat."

In other words Woolworths was always a synonym for mediocrity.

The goods were unremarkable and the staff were notoriously "Woolly headed," as my mother would remark.

If Marks & Spencer was a grammar school boy in a blazer whose dad drove a Rover, Woolworths was the scruffy kid from the unfashionable side of town who was ferried to school in a battered Vauxhall Viva and always had a lump of snot hanging off his nose, although he didn't know it and nobody had the heart to tell him.

But people get nostalgic about Woolworths because it was like Britain itself back in the '70s, a country where pasta was an exotic food, a social life was a pair of roller skates in a scruffy church hall and nightlife was the baleful light of a fish and chip shop at the end of the street.

The demise of Woolworths is not just the fault of the recent recession. The store struggled for an identity in the 1990s and hit on a new logo and wooden floors.

When that failed it went for more wooden floors.

Now it's gone it's strange to read on its website: "Coming back soon, better than ever."

There's even tentative suggestion left hanging in the post retail ether, that pick 'n' mix could be sold on line.

I'm all for nostalgia but this is surely wishful thinking. For a start how can kids possible steal candies on the Internet?

12 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh, this post brought back a lot of memories for me, David. I can remember going to Woolworth's as a kid growing up. It was in town, and we had to drive to get there, so we didn't go very often. It was a big treat for us to go there. Mom would usually buy us a bag of the pick a mix candy while we were there, allowing us to choose our favorite kinds. I didn't know that there were Woolworth's stores still around in 2008. Most of the ones I knew about here were gone a good 20 years or more before that. Well written post. I enjoyed this one.

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  2. Hee hee. This post reminded me of when my step-mum owned a post office in the 90s and it was attached to their house. I stayed there a couple of times and I used to love helping myself to the pick n mix. Of course, my dad would always wake me up at an ungodly hour (before 12pm in your early-20s is ungodly, right?) later in the week to go buy more pick n mix sweets at Macro.

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  3. I also remember going to Woolworths as a child, back in the late 80s and early 90s. I think the one I often frequented in Tampa shut down in 95. Sad times.

    Thanks for the memories.

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  4. Great story, David. Even though my town was too small for a Woolworth's (we had a Kresgee's, about 10 steps down and no candy bins), you painted a nostalgic picture of life during a simpler era (because I was a kid) when I knew if I bought that picture frame at Kresgee's I'd one day look like the vavoom movie star pictured. I eventually put together the 25 cents. The frame broke when I opened the back. I'm not vavoom but, like you said, who'd buy such a frame on the net?

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  5. Beautiful post, David. Great to hear about the compensation for the staff. I must say I haven't been in a Woolworths store as they shut shortly after I moved to the UK :-(

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  6. thanks Daisy - good to bring back memories. Yay for pick n mic Emm

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  7. cool that you had Woolworths in Tampa Jen - I would never have thought. That's cool Kittie although I have never heard of Kresgee's - well you didn't miss much Ash, although in a funny way you did.

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  8. Don't be too upset David. The further south you go here in America the more of these so-called pick-n-mix candy bins crop up. There's a direct proportion between them and the South. In non-math terms: Fat people like candy. (:

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  9. and do the candies get bigger too - BTW your blog doesn't seem to work for comments.

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  10. I'm always sad when stores close their doors. I had no idea Woolworths ever left the US.

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  11. Woolies didn't manage to keep up with the times so it was inevitable that it fall into decline. The one near my mother's house has become a Pound Store. Funnily enough, it's full of the stuff you'd see in the old Woolies...

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  12. No woolsworth on this side of the planet...but yes with these fancy malls, the small departmental stores of old are disappearing....woolies was mediocre but some of the ones here were unique and now everyone sports the same boring fancy labels.

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