Page last updated at 18:30 GMT, Saturday, 27 December 2008

Bargains in closing Woolies shops

Woolworths store
Woolworths has had a presence on the UK High Street for almost a century

More than 200 Woolworths stores across the UK have closed their doors, signalling the chain's final days on the High Street after 99 years.

Barring any last-minute rescue, the remaining 600 stores will follow suit by 5 January and 27,000 permanent and temporary staff will lose their jobs.

Branches in Prestwick, Liverpool, Llandudno, Sutton Coldfield and Gateshead are among those that shut.

The chain called in administrators last month amid mounting debts of 385m.

The rest of the branch closures will be staggered, with another 200 stores shutting on 30 December, 200 on 2 January and the remaining ones on January 5.

Closure countdown

Shop windows are displaying a countdown showing how many days are left before stores close.

At some stores fixtures and staff lockers were even put up for sale.

Staff at the Portobello Road branch in Notting Hill, west London, embraced as the final customer left with the shop's only remaining stock.

The store was completely empty by the time the shutters came down and the store was locked up shortly before 6pm.

Shop assistant Sarah Meehan, 20, said she faced the "worst new year ever".

"My worst fears are for my three year old - we all do our best to go out and work but I have been unable to find anything. It's only going to get worse," she said.

WOOLWORTH CLOSURES

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One of the store's last customers, Alida Guest, 58, described it as "the end of an era".

She said: "You can see how moved the staff are. I have only come out with a bag of pencil sharpeners but I have been popping in for the last 30 years.

At the branch, small posters advertised sections of staff lockers for 30 each, while a "very large safe" cost 300.

People could even take home the metal shopping baskets they were filling up with goods for an extra 1.

Shopper Debbie Anderson, 49, stocked up on pens, envelopes and a shower curtain.

She said she was planning to lay flowers to mark the branch's demise.

In Ipswich, Teresa Stewart, 38, from Stowmarket, Suffolk, left with a box full of discounted stock.

"I've got so much stuff - there are so many bargains.

"I've got some school clothes for my children and various other bits and pieces. It's sad to see Woolworths go," she said.

The situation was the same at the branch in Chorlton, Manchester, as goods were sold for up to 90% off the normal retail price.

Farewell sign in New Malden Woolworths
Staff at this store in New Malden, London said goodbye to customers

One member of staff, who did not want to be named, said they had been told "the more we get in the till the better it reduces the risk of us not being paid."

Staff will be entitled to compensation under the statutory redundancy payment scheme and will be retained for a few days following store closures.

However, it is expected some stores in prime High Street locations will be reopened by other retailers who have expressed an interest in buying their leases, which could offer job opportunities to redundant Woolworths staff.

Last week Woolworths' administrators Deloitte said there was still interest in parts of the business but added it had "not come close" to finding a buyer for the firm.

However, it said a range of food, clothes and "value retailers" had made offers to take over the leases at about 300 stores.

Efforts would be made to put Woolworths staff who were losing their jobs in contact with these potential employers, Deloitte said.

The first round of Woolworths closures comes nearly 100 years after American F W Woolworth opened his first UK store in Liverpool.

Gloomy forecasts

Woolworths ran into trouble this year after struggling under the weight of its debt.

Its problems were compounded when it was forced to pay cash while buying goods from suppliers because trade credit insurers were no longer prepared to cover its suppliers.

The chain is the most high-profile UK High Street casualty of the economic downturn so far.

A number of other retailers have hit trouble in recent weeks, with the most recent being music and games chain Zavvi, which collapsed into administration on Christmas Eve, and the fear is that more could follow in 2009.

Earlier this week, official figures confirmed the UK economy is sliding towards recession faster than was first thought.

Revised data showed a 0.6% decrease in output between July and September - the worst since 1990 and bigger than the 0.5% fall first estimated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

And on Friday, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) - an independent group of economists - predicted the economy would shrink by 2.9% in 2009 - more than at any time since 1946.



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