I was doing some homework, looking at a few old blogs for inspiration. In my blog from Jan 3rd 2009, the first blog I ever wrote on a 3rd of January, I mentioned that Woolworth has just gone bust. There are kids aged 14 who never had the pleasure of being taken to Woolies to buy pick and mix, who never got to choose a Teddy or a Beanie Baby from the shelf, who never bought "Now that's what I call music" from the record counter. They never bought a fishing rod, a Scalextrics set or a Barbie from a well stocked counter.
When my children were small, I loved Woolies. If they were good and did things praiseworthy, I'd take them to Woolies and let them choose a present. If they went to Mass and sat quietly, they'd get a bag of pick and mix. Watching my daughters carefully select the best selection was a joy to behold. When my eldest daughter was three and managed to swim a width of the David Lloyd swimming pool, I took her to Woolies and told her she could have anything at all in the shop. I knew she'd had her eye on the milkshake maker that was a tenner. She marched straight up to it, past the tellies and radio's etc. It was her pride and joy until a week later when it fell to bits.
When I was a kid, I bought fishing tackle, dodgy footballs and ill fitting boots in Woolies. I don't think they had Pick n Mix in the 1960's although my mum was clever enough to steer me away from them. One of my earliest memories of Woolworths was going in with my mum. I must've been 2 or three. I was so small that I came up to my Mum's knee. We became separated and I started to look for her. I knew what her camel hair coat and leg looked like. I soon found her and, having been in a panic, grabbed her leg. There was an almighty shriek and I was given a hard kick. It wasn't my mum. The woman went nuts and had a right old go at my Mum for not keeping me under control. I was in disgrace and banned from Woolies. At the time I didn't speak, so couldn't really explain what happened. Luckily after a few months, the incident was forgotten.
I also recall my one foray into shoplifting was in Woolies. I was about four. I found a bar of chocolate and scoffed it. I knew it was naughty, but I didn't care. It must have been a Saturday, as the next day, we were taken to mass and the Priest gave a sermon about how thieves go straight to hell. I assumed that Priests have psychic powers and knew what I'd done. A couple of years later, I made my first confession and owned up. I've never nicked anything since. Actually that's not strictly true. I have on a couple of occasions in my youth nicked girlfriends from people I didn't like. I did this out of compassion, as I thought the young ladies were far too good for the scumbags they were hitched up with and so felt it was morally correct. I wish I could pretend that my motives were completely morally correct, but I can't. Interestingly, my missus worked in Woolworths in Mill Hill as a teenager, although that was before she was lucky enough to meet me.
When Woolies shut, there was a hole in my life. I'd buy such things as dining sets, Xmas lights, batteries, lightbulbs and presents for people's kids there. There is nowhere like it. I also loved their cheap vinyl records and CD's, especially the collections. If I was bored, I'd nip in. Now Woolies in Mill Hill is an Iceland. It is very useful, but is perhaps the most soulless, boring shop on the Broadway. I don't dislike Iceland, but it is like having your E-Type Jag nicked and being given a beat up Skoda as a replacement. It will get you from A to B, but there is no joy in it at all.
Sooner or later, someone will reinvent Woolworths and I'm convinced they will make a packet. There is a myth that Woolies went bust because it's business model was outdated. This is complete nonsense. The company was taken over by asset strippers who ran it into the ground, taking huge profits and throwing the workforce to the wolves. There was a time when shops seemed to realise that if you made them fun, people would come. The Santa at Gamages, the Train set at Hamleys, the booths to play records in many record shops. Now every space has to earn money, but why would anyone bother visiting the places. As a kid, a trip to Woolies, Gamages or Hamleys was always fun. It isn't now. Come back Woolies, all is forgiven.