Rachael Bletchly: Woolworths hoax buzz shows high street isn’t dead yet
My heart skipped a beat when I heard that Woolworths was returning to our high streets.
I was instantly transported back to 1975 when my Saturdays were spent testing out blue eyeshadow, listening to the Top 10 in the record booth and definitely-not-pilfering from the pick ’n’ mix.
Or saving my pocket money for Christmas shopping and picking up perfect pressies for everyone for under a fiver.
Ah, the wonder of Woolies! The store that gave us retail therapy before we even knew it was a thing was bouncing back 12 years after going bust!
Except it wasn’t. It was just a hoax.
And yet the nostalgic buzz it created convinced me that the death of the high street is not yet a done deal.
I know things don’t look good for stores.
After a post-lockdown recovery in the summer, sales have dropped again with CBI figures showing footfall is down by a third.
John Lewis has announced eight store closures and is turning 45 per cent of its Oxford Street flagship into office space to try and reverse some of its £635million coronavirus losses.
Now second-wave safety fears and the thought of queues, masks, endless anti-bac and no browsing mean more people than ever are planning to do their Christmas shopping online. I’d considered it too.
But this week I had to collect something from Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford and, while there I thought I’d brave John Lewis.
But it was so quiet and calm and well organised that I spent ages browsing its fully-stocked shelves and chatting with staff before having a cream tea in the cafe.
And it was every bit as pleasurable as my ’70s Woolworth Saturdays.
Now, with just eight weeks to go until Christmas, Britain’s ONLINE retail association has warned of shortages due to “really very excessive demand”.
Which means shoppers might not be able to buy the perfect presents they’d picked.
So – new lockdown permitting – they will have to return to the once-favoured stores they’ve spurned due to the pandemic.
And I suspect that after some old-fashioned retail therapy they will wonder why they waited.