Djcnor’s Weblog

The Day the Woolies Came Off British Eyes

Posted on: December 13, 2008

In my household, we have been aware for a long time of all the things going wrong with the economy, especially in the US. We were hoping it wouldn’t spread here, that Bush would be put out in time to prevent it, that Britain (and the rest of the world) would have the wisdom to protect their own people from contamination with the US problems.

It did not happen. Things began to happen here in the UK as well. A few prominent companies, like Rover, and Northern Rock went down. A few came close. Foreclosures skyrocketed. And more.

But what finally caught the attention of the Brits, what finally got relatively secure Brits to widen their eyes and say, or at least think, “This mess might actually affect ….ME!   was Woolworth’s fall.

Now British Woolworths has been separate from Woolworths in the US. When I came here and went looking for household goods, Woolworths was the first familiar name I found, but the selection of goods I found in the local store was not the same and didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I never went back.

Apparently, it was very understandable to Brits. I never knew what affection they had for the place, though I guess I should have since the parking lot was usually pretty full. But the local Woolies is in a popular center so, for all I knew, the owners of the cars could have shopped anywhere in the center.

Anyhow, Brits went in droves to Woolies on the day the closing down sale began, so much so that it was evident in the traffic flow, in how stuffed the buses were.

I thought they were just out for closing down bargains and that it didn’t matter what store was going down. But my husband and I have now heard a good number of snippets of conversations about it. And it’s different. This time, it’s not an anomaly.

To Brits, it seems, if Woolies can fail, everything and everyone is vulnerable. That’s the kind of mass “revelation” that can seriously change economic behavior.

So I am led to consider what would have a similar effect in the US. Not Wal-Mart. The Brit analog to Wal-Mart would be Tesco, I think. Not GM, because that’s a very specific industry rather than a store people are used to going to for a variety of types of purchases. Not one of the main department stores, either. Sears, maybe, except Sears has been threatened before. Still, maybe Sears. If  Sears was going down and no one came forward to buy it.

Because that’s an important part of the scenario. It has to be something solid and familar and old. An institution of the working class. Something that should be a guaranteed good investment for any prospective take-over bid, yet somehow it isn’t.

Now, seeing my description of what is required, I think that maybe for the US, GM would fit the bill. And maybe that’s why so many see the automaker bailout as a good thing.


4 Responses to "The Day the Woolies Came Off British Eyes"

Hmmm, well Rover’s failure had nothing to do with the credit crisis, it was just badly run and wasn’t selling anymore.

“I should have since the parking lot was usually pretty full. But the local Woolies is in a popular center…”

I’m quite surprised by this as any Woolworth’s I’ve ever visited has been pretty crappy and half empty. I don’t really know anyone who shops in them anymore. If we weren’t experiencing a recession it may have limped along in this country for a few years longer, but it’s a terrible company. Woolworth’s has been been crummy for as long as I can remember (although I’m only 23) so I think it’s only generations before mine which hold any real feeling for the brand (which is bizarre in itself, as with any brand). The fact people were turning up for the closing down, wasn’t to see off their favourite store, it’s mainly down to the fact it was wrongly publicised (most likely on purpose) that items would be at least 50% off, but it turned out they were only reduced UP TO 50%!

So yeah, good riddance to a crap store, but I do obviously sympathise with all those people who are going to lose their jobs, especially at this time of year.

Thank you for a Brit view. I found the store just the way you described it, half empty, the day I visited it. And I believe you’re right, that it is only older generations that hold a real feeling for the brand. But those are exactly the folks who have felt established and secure up till now.

Let me ask you? Do you remember a time when you felt secure, that there was little doubt that you would be able to establish yourself in a certain level of comfort with near certainty that nothing would pull the rug out from under you?

I live in a small flat at the end of a street of big houses with big gardens and two-car garages and often more cars (high-end-brands) than can fit in those garages. Those folks have felt very secure indeed up till now. As I said, I thought it was just the bargains, too, until I started hearing conversations among “gobsmacked” Brits (yes, of older generations than yours, now that I think about it.)

I found your aside on the absurdity of brand loyalty very interesting, interesting enough that my next blog post will be taking that as my jumping off point. I hope you’ll come back to read it, and just in case you don’t happen to return here, I’m going to try to track you down and let you know I replied to you comment and will be saying more.

Again, thanks.

Britain is fucked up because it is populated by whiny girly-boy tossers like you that cant seem to grasp even basic economics.

Yes, BUSH, singlehandedly at that, destroyed your economy.

Yeah, right.


Ah yes. I’ve missed American inarticulateness in the time I (an American by the way) have lived in the UK, NOT. Please note how many years the UK has managed to continuously have a decent economy versus the US. The US will make great progress when it finally acquires the humility that might allow it to learn from the experiences of older nations.

No President does anything single-handedly. Bush has managed to attract a huge number of co-conspirators. I encourage you to throw shoes at each and every one of them. They deserve it.

It’s about time that Americans realized that the actions of the US President and all his appointees, in fact every American of influence, affect not only Americans. We like thinking of the US as number one in prestige and power, yet some, like you, want to avoid the responsibility for the results of using that power beyond our borders. Begin to think about that now, OK?

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