Lyn Looks at Life 4; We want Woolworths!
One of my claims to fame is that I was the last customer ever in our local Woolworths on the night it closed down.
Woolworths had always been a part of my life. I grew up using it for almost anything I needed.
My Dad would send me down there for things like half a dozen screws. Woolies – as it was always called – had a large DIY section that sold practically anything that a handyman needed in small quantities.
When I was older and made my own clothes I would go there for packets of needles, matching cotton threads and buttons.
It had a quick turnover, so it was ideal for buying cheap presents.
Everyone was surprised when all the Woolworths stores closed down. I wasn’t. It didn’t sell anything that anyone needed any more. And I wouldn’t call it cheap.
I’m sure that the final board of directors had no idea how to hold a hammer, let alone use one!
There were rows of expensive, large toys in boxes that could be bought cheaper elsewhere. And I can’t remember anything useful for sale in there.
I’m not actually sure how you could describe it. It didn’t sell surplus or bankrupt stock, so you wouldn’t browse around looking for a bargain. Quite honestly, it had lost the plot.
The lovely old distinctive Woolies building is now occupied by WH Smith, with a small post office in the back; another High Street disaster that was closed.
This is what I wrote after the store closed down.
By Lyn Funnell
On Saturday 27th December 2008 our local Woolworths in Uckfield closed down for good.
I was their last customer.
In June 1879 Frank Woolworth opened the first store, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
In 1909 Britain’s first Woolworths opened in Liverpool, and as everyone knows, they spread all over the country.
I was told that the Uckfield Woolies opened in 1939. Before the war’s shortages and rationing!
All the stores had wooden floors and counters. It seemed that you could buy anything in Woolies; three nails, bulbs for the garden, lipstick, peanuts, engagement rings, and terrible cover versions of the latest records. Fierce-looking ladies in blue overalls stood at individual counters. You had to queue for each different item you bought.
The store was packed in the final hour. Everyone was hunting for bargains. The queues tailed all around the store. People had armfuls of toys. The car boot sales are going to be busy next summer!
Hands dived in the Pic ‘n Mix. I decided to give it a miss.
I bought the last packet of Love Hearts. The sweets still had the same mottos on them; You’re fab, and Hug me. We used to offer them to the boys, and giggle when they read them out.
My Dad used to take me Christmas shopping in Woolworths. He never argued with my choice. I’d seen a golden plastic swan with a bottle of scent between its wings. I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen. The perfume was probably horrible, but my Mum had the swan on her dressing-table for years.
Mum used to threaten me, ‘If you don’t do your homework you’ll end up in Woolworths!’ Two of the Uckfield staff have got degrees. I haven’t.
In the final half-hour the crowds thinned out. A few remaining browsers hunted for a last bargain. Some of them opened chocolate bars and ate them. Nobody stopped them. There was litter, clothes and split packets of sweets all over the floor. I saw half a Toblerone with teeth marks in it.
The staff began gathering in groups. They’d been checking the time and looking forward to going home. Suddenly nobody wanted to leave.
Manageress Sue Washington, 53, said, ‘We were only told last Wednesday, the 18th December, that this store will close today. I’ve been with the Company for 26 years. I think it’s a shame. A disaster.’
Joss Wilde, 24, said, ‘It’s been a memorable experience. I’ve met a lot of people and it’s taught me lots for my future life. It’s been fun.’
Leanne Carter, 17, said, I’ve been here for 18 months. It’s been a great place to work. I’ll never forget it.’
In front of me, the last couple of customers began to bargain. Their baskets were full. Prices dropped right down.
Then it was my turn. I was the very last customer in Uckfield Woolworths. The final sale in the store was my packet of Fizzy Glow Neon Worms. I think I’ll keep them with the receipt for ever.
I didn’t have to bargain. Everything cost just a few pence. Nix over six. Full circle.
Goodbye Woolies. You’ve been a part of all our lives. A household name. You’ll be sadly missed.
As Sue said, it’s a disaster.
The end of an era.