Whitley Bay Woolworths
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Pick 'n' mix - what are the North East's former Woolworths stores now?

Variety stores, supermarkets and fashion chains are the major occupants of the North East’s 33 former Woolworths sites.

Research carried out by regionally-based retail consultancy cannyinsights.com has been published to mark the 5th anniversary of the iconic retailer’s disappearance from the high street.

B&M and discount fashion retailer Store Twenty One – with four sites each – are the biggest occupants of the region’s former Woolworths locations, while only two of the North East’s 33 ex-Woolies sites are currently empty.

The research shows only two of the North East’s ex-Woolies sites are now charity shops and four North East towns – Billingham, Middlesbrough, North Shields and Wallsend – are already on to their second post-Woolies occupant, following the collapse or closure of the businesses that initially took over those premises.

Newton Aycliffe is the only North East ex-Woolworths site to have remained empty the entire time, though the property is currently under offer to a major (unnamed) retailer, reports cannyinsights.com.

Overall the North East picture largely echoes the wider national ex-Woolies landscape as value retailers have taken over a large proportion of stores.

Graham Soult, retail consultant at CannyInsights.com – and who has visited and photographed a third of the ex-Woolworths estate himself, including all 33 North East stores – said: “When the last Woolworths stores were shuttered on 6 January 2009, the chain’s closure left hundreds of towns across the UK without one of their most important and long-established retailers.

“At the same time, however, it has provided a unique opportunity for successful and expanding variety chains – like Poundland, B&M and Discount UK – to ramp up their rate of growth, snapping up what were, in many cases, great locations in busy high streets, shopping centres or retail parks.

“Operators of small supermarkets and convenience stores – like Iceland, Heron Foods and Tesco – have also taken advantage many of Woolworths’ best sites to grow their presence on high streets across the North East and elsewhere, while Store Twenty One and M&Co have targeted smaller towns with their affordable fashion and homewares offer.

“Overall, analysing the fate of Woolworths’ former sites is a compelling way of looking at how our town centres have evolved during the economic downturn. Perhaps most significantly, the fact that fewer than 1% of ex-Woolies sites nationally are yet to attract any new occupier brings into question the idea that the high street is dead or dying.

“Of course, there are significant challenges for retailers in the current economic climate, and other issues – such as the levels of business rates or town centre parking charges – that are still creating an uneven playing field between retail operations on the high street, on retail parks and online.

“However, the fact that so many ex-Woolworths sites, five years on, are back in active retail use is a cause for celebration – testament to the ability of Britain’s retailers to evolve and innovate amid the changing retail and economic landscape, and to the continued role of our high streets is providing shoppers with convenience and value.

“Here in the north, Cumbria and North Yorkshire already have 100% occupancy of their former Woolworths sites, and with just Peterlee and Newton Aycliffe yet to fill in this region, a North East clean sweep is tantalisingly close.”

Read Graham’s recent article for Bdaily on the demise of Woolworths, and the five years since.

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