More than half of Woolworths' stores now closed

Another sombre milestone in the demise of Woolworths was passed tonight as the latest wave of store closures meant more than half its UK shops were now shut for business.

At least 150 of the retailer's 807 outlets held their last day of trading today with everything, including the fixtures and fittings, on sale at discount prices.

Over 400 Woolworths shops have now shut their doors as the 5 January closure deadline for the historic chain nears.

Today's Woolworths closures included two branches in Liverpool, along with stores in Northern Ireland, Wales, Jersey and others across England.

Woolworths' longest trading branch in Croydon - listed as closing today after 96 years - in fact closed yesterday after it ran out of stock to sell.

Administrators Deloitte said they had no evidence of other stores selling the last of their wares ahead of schedule, but it was possible this could happen elsewhere.

Around 200 more outlets are set to close on 2 January, with the chain's last remaining shops due to shut on 5 January.

The firm's collapse will leave 27,000 workers facing redundancy.

FW Woolworths first came to the UK in 1909, when the American firm opened a branch in Liverpool.

Everything in the Merseyside store was sold for sixpence (2.5p), making it an instant hit and the company quickly expanded.

The branch in North End, Croydon, opened in 1912 to the delight of south London shoppers. There was no uniform in the early days so staff wore their own clothes to work.

Woolworths Croydon - which managed to see off the Depression, two world wars and numerous recessions - celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2002.

The chain as a whole, which outlived its US parent by more than 10 years, was already foundering when the credit crunch and sharp downturn in consumer spending finally toppled it in November.

Deloitte has held talks with other retailers to take on the leases of around 300 Woolworths stores and hopes to sell off the Ladybird children's clothes and Chad Valley toys brands.

A spokeswoman said: "We are considering every offer that comes to the table."

Worsening economic conditions have claimed a slew of high street victims in the past weeks, marking a devastating festive season for the retail sector.

News that fashion store USC had called in administrators followed the collapse of firms including MFI, Zavvi, and The Pier.

The majority of USC stores were immediately rescued in a deal with management, echoing the fate of tea and coffee retailer Whittard of Chelsea and menswear chain The Officers Club, which were both bought out of administration in the days before Christmas.

And many fear the retail crisis on Britain's high streets could worsen.

Bryan Jackson of PKF, USC's administrator, said: "Unfortunately I can't really see it finishing in the short-term.

"I would imagine that the casualties will increase at the turn of the year."

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