As regular readers may know, I worked for Woolworths until it closed down in January this year. You can read the series of articles I wrote in the aftermath of its closure.
In one of my articles, I wrote about the poster that appeared in the staff area this time last year. It announced:
Remember Remember the 5th of November!
In just less than a year, on the 5th November 2009, we celebrate our 100th birthday!
Watch out for more details coming soon…
Unfortunately we didn’t get many more details about the centenary celebrations. All we heard after that was stuff about trying to sell the company for a pound.
I regret not taking the poster to keep as soon as it was clear that Woolies would not emerge from the mire it found itself in through late November and December. Someone is selling one of these posters on eBay at the moment. The poster is a great piece of history — the 100th birthday that never was.
Or was it? Today, the new owners of the Woolworths brand have been celebrating the centenary nonetheless by putting on 100 promotions and giving away free Pic ‘n’ Mix with every order. That is what I like about the new Woolworths, owned by Shop Direct. Despite being a separate company, they are respectful of the name’s heritage. In fairness, they would be mad not to — the Woolies name must still have appeal, especially among those in a nostalgic mood.
Not everyone is so happy about it. The Woolworths Facebook page is often full of offended comments from people who feel that it is presumptuous and opportunistic of Shop Direct to cash in on the 99 years of Woolworths that preceded their involvement. There were, after all, around 30,000 workers made redundant at the original Woolworths last Christmas. Most probably aren’t in the mood to celebrate.
It is a matter of debate whether Woolworths is 100 really. Today is nothing other than the 100th anniversary of the first F. W. Woolworth store to open in the UK. The company had already been operating in the USA and Canada for decades before that. The UK company became separate in the 1980s when it was bought by Kingfisher. After that, Woolworths in the UK became a separate company when Kingfisher cast it off in 2001.
In the USA, the Woolworths name ceased to exist in 1997. But the original company still exists as Foot Locker, having decided to concentrate on sports goods. If the operation in the USA still counts, Woolworths is 131 years old.
You can still shop in bona fide Woolworths stores in Germany. These, like the British stores, were originally part of the American company and became separate in 1998. It declared insolvency this year, but struggles on.
(Supermarket chains named Woolworths in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa have nothing to do with the original FW Woolworth apart from the name.)