A potted history of Woolworths stores
F.W. Woolworth was the retail phenomenon of the twentieth century - a shop for masses that sold factory made goods at rock bottom prices. It was the first brand to go global, building to more than 3,000 near identical stores across the world. At its height it generated such fabulous riches that its founder was able to build the world's tallest building and pay for it in cash. It shares were the gold standard of the exchanges in New York and London, paying dividends that others could only dream of. To become a Woolworth supplier was considered a licence to print money. Part of its magic was an ability to adapt to fit into different local communities and to 'go native', without sacrificing its uniqueness. Shoppers in the UK considered 'Woolies' as British as fish and chips, while Americans continued to call the chain 'the five and ten' more than sixty years after it dropped its fixed price formula. But, having risen like a meteor, all the way to the top, it faded in the 1990s into a peaceful retirement in the USA and Canada before falling like a stone in the UK in 2008. Woolworths UK went from normal trading in 800 stores to complete shutdown in just 41 days. In Germany the chain faced a similar fate a few months later. In both Countries the brand was soon revived on-line.
There can be little doubt that if Frank Woolworth was starting out today it would be on the Internet, with its low costs and mass reach. But that is cold comfort for those who loved and cherished the stores around the world. Today a few branches still prosper in Zimbabwe, Barbados and Mexico. But for most people that's a long way to walk for some pic'n'mix candy and a light bulb.
Frank Winfield Woolworth was born in Rodman, New York on 13 April 1852. At the age of fifteen he gave up life on his father's farm to seek his fortune working in a shop in Watertown. Despite learning about commerce and book keeping at night school, his boss, William Moore...