Page last updated at 22:27 GMT, Monday, 5 January 2009

Woolworths has left the building

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Woolworths has been a fixture on Dumfries High Street for decades

Like numerous towns around the country, Dumfries is about to see its Woolworths store close for the final time.

In an ever-changing high street landscape, it had been one of the few constants on offer to shoppers in the area since before the Second World War.

Many locals called it an "institution" - before telling you they had never set foot inside the store for years.

That has probably changed in the past few weeks as people have swooped for bargains before it shuts for good.

The same story is being repeated in Cowdenbeath, Dumbarton, East Kilbride, Inverness, Montrose, Perth and many other towns.

Store closures

In Dumfries, Woolworths joins a growing list of empty shops littering the town centre.

Indeed, a walk through the heart of the Queen of the South shows a large number of stores with their shutters down on a permanent basis.

The main Post Office in Great King Street has been unoccupied since it closed in 2006.

Woolworths sign
Shoppers have cleared the shelves as the closing date approached
Other sites once run by Klick, The Works, Music Zone, Currys, River Island and the likes remain vacant.

Some have moved to other locations in the town - others have gone for good.

The trouble with reporting these facts, of course, is that you can be perceived to be part of the problem.

Sitting around a table with friends in the business community in recent months has become an uncomfortable proposition for a reporter.

When asked who they blame - at least in part - for the economic doom and gloom, many point their fingers at "the media".

In some ways, when stories of job losses and store closures dominate the headlines, it is hard to argue.

On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore the visible signs of a business downturn which are all around you. Most reporters are simply chronicling the events taking place around them.

I am old enough, of course, to know that such slumps can be cyclical.

Back in the 1980s and 1990s I remember writing or reading similar stories about the death of the town centre.

'Feel good factor'

The main worry is that they might eventually prove to be correct.

It has prompted some people to ask - in the days of internet shopping and supermarkets big enough to sell almost anything - whether we need a town centre at all.

Woolworths, they argue, is simply a victim of progress.

That may be true, but it still leaves an uncomfortable hole in the middle of towns such as Dumfries.

The sight of shops sitting empty does little to create that elusive "feel good factor".

There is no room for sentiment in the world of big business, of course.

However, a few shoppers might just feel the odd pang of emotion when they walk by their vacant Woolworths store in the weeks ahead.

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