High streets blighted by empty Woolworths stores

Mark Leftly
Sunday 22 August 2010 00:00
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Up to 150 stores of the old Woolworths empire might never be used by retailers again, according to the man behind a report produced for The Independent on Sunday.

Over a year-and-a-half after the chain ceased trading, more than 300 of the firm's 807 units do not have a replacement tenant. Matthew Hopkinson, the business development director at The Local Data Company (LDC), said: "Some experts think that 18 to 20 per cent of empty retail units might never be re-used. Apply that to Woolworths and it could be that 150 units will be empty forever."

LDC found that Iceland had swooped on more units than any other single chain. The frozen product supermarket picked up 61 stores, though, collectively, discount retailers took the most units.

Woolworths went into administration in late 2008 and all the shops were closed in January the following year, resulting in 27,000 job losses. Administrator Deloitte desperately tried to find a purchaser to rescue the chain.

A year ago, around 60 per cent of the stores were vacant, compared to closer to 40 per cent now. The rate of take-up has slowed as the best sites have been taken, though Poundland's chief executive, Jim McCarthy, said that he has agreed to re-open 10 more former Woolworths this year.

The Woolworths failure came 100 years after it was founded. The chain was best known in recent years for its pick 'n' mix sweet selection.

One of America's original "Five and Dime" discounters, Woolworths was seen as revolutionary for its self-service approach to sales. Customers could take a good look at goods on shelves and racks rather than having to ask shopkeepers to bring them from behind the counter.

Other findings in the LDC report include: 2.1 per cent of ex-Woolworths stores have had two tenants since the retailer shut down, and 0.5 per cent have been demolished. The North-east has gained the most tenants in ex-Woolworths over the past 12 months, rising from 10 per cent to 55 per cent.

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