Thursday, 11 December 2008

Weeping For Woolworths ..

Woolworths slashes prices by 50%- so the headlines tell us today. In a last ditch effort to sell off stock our dear old 'Woolies' is a sinking ship for sure. But why the outpouring of grief? Surely if much loved Woolies were quite so special to us we would have been frequenting her stores far more and thus spending our money? – Well, yes that could be argued. When did you last go into a Woolworths? – Or, more importantly, when did you last spend any money in Woolworths? Bless her heart; she had clearly lost her way even before the current economic climate, so really we shouldn’t be surprised at her downfall. She is fast becoming a fossil on our High Streets – and that is what makes me weep for Woolies.

Woolies have been an enormous landmark in our little town here on the south coast. She could always be relied upon to sell us everything from a pack of paper clips to the latest CD. But clearly we haven’t been using her enough.

Like many of us, my own recollections of Woolies stem from my childhood, and I can still remember now the sound of the old wooden floorboards as people dashed from the counter to counter. There was the cheese counter where one would queue to purchase odd coloured ‘processed cheeses’ – which resembled plastic – and tasted like it too! The most sophisticated cheese one could buy would have been a piece of Edam with its vivid red wax covering. The biscuit counter always held great fascination for me. For although I was never told not to buy them, my Mother would always look slightly aloof if I ever suggested buying a few to take home. Looking back that was most possibly the first purchase I ever made as a child without an adult beside me – a bag of broken biscuits ate whilst hiding around the corner - which tasted fairly stale anyway. Maybe Mum was right?

From childhood purchases of toys and sweeties, Woolies would always tempt me with her array of garish cosmetics – Miners Make Up. One could be guaranteed to find the very brightest of acid green eye shadows, or the clumpiest of black mascaras.
Who remembers the ‘Winfield’ brand? This was a forerunner of the ‘Savers’ or ‘Value’ brands we find in our supermarkets today. Cheap and cheerful, ‘Winfield’ brands could be relied upon to give you the sweetest and sickliest of own brand perfumes and talc! – Was there ever a mother in the land who didn’t receive a bottle of Winfield Perfume with matching hand cream and talc – all topped with, most probably a bright mauve ribbon?

From Miners make up to a finding your first ‘Saturday Job’ – Woolies was ‘the’ place to be seen on a Saturday. In fact it was the only place to go to listen to the pop songs of the day. One would queue patiently at the counter to request what song you wanted to hear. This process could take quite some time, especially on a Saturday afternoon when half the towns population of teenagers were all wanting to listen to ‘Puppy Love’ at the same time! Small ‘listening booths’ were installed next to the record department and we would make our way to the vacant booth, place a pair of greasy, mucky looking headphones over our ears and await the glorious sound of Donny Osmond- Oh sweet memories!
I was one of those ‘Saturday Girls’ – in fact, I worked full time for Woolies at one stage. Employed on the ‘record counter’ I was in heaven! Not only that, it was deemed that all employees of the record counter would not have to wear a uniform. Thus it became very much a fashion parade of tank tops, mini skirts and platform shoes. Great thick bleached streaks adorned my hair, and although I had, by then moved on from the delights of Miners Make Up I was purchasing Brute aftershave by the bucketful – and, like many girls of the time ‘splashing it all over’ not only my boyfriend but myself!
There I would be with my platforms clip clopping around on the wooden floors listening to anything from The Bay City Rollers to Demis Roussos – it was a perk of course to be able to choose what music to relay around the store. However, on entering my Leonard Cohen phase the manager would come storming over to switch the record player off as he was convinced that listening to Leonard Cohen would make his sales drop.- He was most probably right.
The really young teens would come in and buy their ‘Top of the Pops’ LP (a long player) – these were ghastly ‘cover’ type records which the uninitiated lapped up but were very much frowned upon by anyone with a scrap of taste! Another big seller would be ‘Pickwick Records’. These would be ‘middle of the road’ type LP’s and thus the ideal gift to give to parents or an elderly relative for Christmas.
Working on the record counter introduced me to the world of ‘stereos’ – or rather ‘music centres’ as we called them. Enormous great machines that gave us the ultimate in choice of listening to a record, a cassette or the radio. I remember one Christmas in particular when these music centres were ‘the’ Christmas purchase. Ferguson and ‘Alba’ were all the rage (courtesy of Alan Sugar I believe?).

Indeed Woolies are inevitably facing the end now. I know for many of us customers and ex staff alike will always have special memories of ‘our good ‘ol Woolies’.
On a final note I would like to say an enormous ‘thank you’ to one particular member of staff at our local Woolies. Out of courtesy I will not name her of course, but I think a tribute should be made – listen out Seaford Gazette or Eastbourne Herald! – This member of staff has been working at this store since she was around 15 years old. In all that time she has served our little town tirelessly. – Always with a smile and always has time to stop and chat however busy her day may be. Over the years this dear lady has seen the families of our town grow from babies to adults, she has helped them make their first childhood purchases of sweeties on a Saturday, or that little gift for Mothers Day whilst Mummy’s not looking. She’s seen those children grow into stroppy and sullen teens and finally into adults now with children of their own. She remembers all their names, and never fails to ask each of us about our families. She is indeed a star and one person I know will be surely missed by us all. – Let’s make sure those of us in this town look out for her in the future, just as she has smiled daily at us.

Molly x


dani said...

hi, molly:)
i hope you are having a lovely day. the woolworths closed in our town before i was born (at least 40 years ago). there have been many long time establishment that i have seen close their doors though... nostalgic ones like the woolworths you've described. it's always so sad... almost like losing a friend.
so, i am totally feeling your ode to woolworths:(
a little off topic, however, i have read several blog posts this morning concerning old stereos, vinyl records, and, yes, even the osmonds. i guess the Christmas season brings about a lot of nostalgia. good memories are a good thing:)
thank you for drumming up some of mine!!!
much love,

Molly's Mellow Moments said...

Oh, that's sweet of you Dani - as you say, it must be Christmas that's bringing on a dose of nostalgia! - How weird we are thinking alike...must be something in the air!

Brrrrr! - Keep warm - it is so cold here tonight...but still no snow. How I would love just a little sprinkling!
Take care, and thanks for dropping by again.
Molly x

Cass said...

Dear Molly, What a lovely ode to Woolworth's. That establishment closed its USA operations nearly 20 years ago, and I miss it.

When my husband Howard and I lived in New York City, I could walk to our local Woolworth's and it was such a blessing to have it nearby!

And thank you for visiting my blog. I am going to try and be more diligent about writing for it, but the holidays do get busy.

Is that a picture of your tricolor Cavalier on your blogsite? She is adorable! I have two Blenheims now, but I used to have two wonderful little Tri girls, and I miss them terribly.

Cavaliers really are such special and loving little dogs; I can't imagine being without one! We have done a lot of work with Cavalier Rescue, taking in and rehabilitating homeless CKCS and finding them their perfect new "forever home."

My best wishes to you and yours for the holidays!
Rockaway Boro, New Jersey, USA

Tabitha said...

Hi there Molly,
Just popped over to say hello.
Thank you for your kind comment on my blog ~ it was nice to hear from you and I hope you will visit again.
The Woolies where we live is having a closing down sale too ~ it is quite sad ~ I usually buy the presents from there when the children are invited to birthday parties etc ~ will have to find somewhere else now!!
Take care
Love and hugs Tabitha XXX

Molly's Mellow Moments said...

Hi girls
Thanks for popping over. I didn't realise that Woolies in USA had closed, I had always imagined they were still going? - I think in Australia they are, and they seem to be more of a food supermarket than a general store?
You kindly asked about my little Cavalier?...The little photo isn't of her (I was posting from my lap top and didn't have any of her) but our little Hollie is almost identical, a tri-colour. She is an angel. She is ten years old and bless her, lost her sister, a Blenheim last May with a tumour. Oh my goodness, don't they just break our hearts eh? I adore them and I swear they are angels! You must get so much joy from rescuing the little darlings.
Tabitha - (adore your name by the way..if we had gone on to have a sixth child and it was a girl, she would have been Tabitha!). - Yep, 'tis a shame about Woolies, there's a lot of memories for many being talked about today up and down the country.
Will pop over and see you girls again soon.
Keep warm - don't work yourselves to a frazzle - enjoy your little ones!
Molly x