The Rise and Fall of Woolworth’s
The first F W Woolworth store appeared in the UK (Liverpool) in 1909, coming from the USA where the name was well established. Soon Woolworth stores were spreading to towns all over the country – the Newmarket store arrived in the mid 1920s.
Known as ‘F W Woolworth & Co Ltd. 3d and 6d Store’ it very successfully sold a variety of cheap goods displayed on open counters so that they could be handled by customers, at a time when most shops kept their goods out of reach and only touchable by asking an assistant.
Woolworths persevered with their 3d and 6d policy through the 1930s and overcame the problem of selling more expensive articles by breaking them down into parts. A small bakelite camera, for instance, consisted of several parts each costing 6d, a teapot might have cost 6d for the pot and 3d for the lid.
Hard up housewives relied on ‘Woollies’, as it was affectionately known, for many of their household items while their menfolk would pore over cheap tools, screws, batteries or cycle parts. Children of the thirties will particularly remember the exciting gaudily painted tin-plate toys, mostly imported from Japan. ‘A tanner from Woolies’ came to describe anything bought cheaply.
Woolworths continued to prosper after WW II and introduced their own brand of clothing known as ‘Winfield’, after their founder Frank Winfield Woolworth. Another Woolies special was their Embassy brand of cheap gramophone records, using non-original artists.
By the latter half of the 20th century, they were meeting increasing competition from other shops selling cut price goods. Their luck finally ran out at the end of 2008, when Woolworths went into receivership. The Newmarket store, so much a part of the town for more than 80 years, finally bowed down to changing consumer buying habits and strong competition.