Could Woolworths return to the high street

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The former Woolworths store, Merrion Centre, Leeds

Over recent months, Leeds has seen several high-street stores close with rising inflation and Brexit being to blame, and there doesn’t seem that much to celebrate in Leeds City Centre now.

Fortunes could be about to change however for a former Managing Director of the high-street store Woolworths, after he suggested that the brand could be purchased back from the Shop Direct group.  The high-street store could be brought back to life, probably news that shoppers would have at least expected to hear, especially in the economic climate that our high streets are currently experiencing.

Woolworths faced administration in 2008 after racking up more than £400m in debt, and vanished off our high street completely with the closure of all 807 stores resulting in 27,000 job losses.

Tony Page has recently suggested that he had approached the brands owner Shop Direct and asked them to release the Brand name so he can relaunch the store once more. In a statement, he said: “I feel as though if the brand name was available it would still be a possibility to bring it back.

“I would want it to be much more a part of the community. The stores that really used to do well were those that were at the heart of the community, rather than being in the big shopping centres.

“I am still emotionally attached to it. I still think it has got a role in the future. I have contacted Shop Direct and said, ‘You’re not using the brand anymore, would you consider giving it to someone who would?’”

Shop Direct was unable to offer Leeds Business Review any official comment following recent reports in the media suggesting that Mr Page had approached them.

The store launched originally in Liverpool in 1909 selling general merchandise and had been vacant from the high street in Leeds since the store closed in 1984. But do shoppers want to see the brand revived? One Leeds shopper said: “Not sure if Woolworths would be able to offer anything different, we have Wilkinson’s now. Times have moved on, I think sometimes it’s better to leave stores like Woolworths in the past, to the memories.”

The former Woolworths store which shut in 1984 based in Leeds Briggate is now home to House of Fraser, while the much smaller branch based in the Merrion centre was one of the 200 stores to close its doors in 2009 when the company went in to administration, and is now home to Home Bargains.

The website and trademark were purchased by the Shop Direct Group when the stores closed and Woolworths continued as an online retailer until its closure in 2009. But there is still speculation as to whether the trademark ‘Woolworths’ will make a revived appearance.

This news comes after the Distributive Trades Survey released by the CBI this month shows that the volume of sales grew fastest since September 2015, with orders placed on suppliers rising at the strongest rate for a year-and-a-half. Clothing performed strongly within the retail sector whilst furniture and carpets and drink stores have reported falling sales. However, the CBI suggests that higher inflation will ease spending over the Summer.

Many shoppers have fond memories of the retailer that was home to Candyking Pick ’n Mix sweets, Ladybird children’s clothing and Chad Valley toys.

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