Nov 08

Woolworths RIP

FT17 comments • 787 views

I’m sure there’ll be a lot about Woolies on various blogs today: time here simply to note its role in the early 00s pop boom. For some value of “boom”: the singles market in the time just before downloads was a) tiny and b) dominated by Woolworths as the emerging supermarket chains mostly stuck to albums. I remember reading somewhere that 40% of all singles were sold through Woolworths in the early part of the decade, which would have made their central buyers the most important men in pop (defining pop, which nobody really did by then, as ‘what gets into the charts’). Since Woolworths worked to their OWN singles chart – determined on the Monday of release via pre-orders, market expertise, the operation of a ouija board, etc. – rather than the official one, this had a significant impact.

Woolworths downsized its singles displays a few years ago, though I think they still stocked physical singles: their closure is surely the real actual last nail in the coffin of the physical single as anything other than a specialist format (indie 7″s, dance 12″s, etc.).


  1. 1
    Tommy Mack on 27 Nov 2008 #

    Shaggy ‘Oh Carolina’ single from Woolies was the first CD I ever bought, sadly later smashed up during drunken teenage hi-jinx (and I suspect, Britpop-era indie snobbery…)

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 27 Nov 2008 #

    Looking back, I’m surprised just how much CD singles cost in Woolworths back in the last century. Circa 1996, they were 4 punds when in the charts (if you were lucky, 2 in the week of release) then went down from 3 to 2 to 1 pound with agonising slowness).

    In my impoverished Britpop prime, I often remembered with regret the dozens and dozens of bargain bin copies of ‘Popscene’ at 10p in Woolworths, Elephant & Castle, 1992, and the astronomical profit I could have made a few years later had I invested in them.

    Incidentally, I note that the Music & Video Exchange empire has sold off one of its shops – ‘Stage & Screen Exchange’, the most agreeable site to spend time in. Is this due to the recession, Notting Hill rents or Ebay, I wonder?

  3. 3
    Tom on 27 Nov 2008 #

    MVE have shed a few shops since their glory days (which of course I associate with “when I worked there”) – I’d say eBay* has fucked them over considerably more than the recession, which might give them a bit of a lift.

    *and, quite frankly, the introduction of the minimum wage.

  4. 4
    Billy Smart on 27 Nov 2008 #

    Does Debbie Smith from Curve and Echobelly still work for them? Being served by her always added a note of pop heritage mystique to life (she always seemed to be nice and enthusiastic, too)

  5. 5
    Tom on 27 Nov 2008 #

    I have no idea! I worked in the book and comic shop, and haven’t been back to the Notting Hill bits for close to a decade now…!

  6. 6
    Billy Smart on 27 Nov 2008 #

    You would probably have served me on many occasions, then.

    Music & Video Exchange has never recoved from the discontinuation of the 20p basement in 1999, from where about half of my record collection seems to come.

  7. 7
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 27 Nov 2008 #

    if you ever traded anything in, tom owes you money

  8. 8
    Tom on 27 Nov 2008 #

    Billy I would like to apologise now for any rudeness I may have shown you, unless of course you ever brought in a paperback copy of Bob Geldof’s “Is This It?”, in which case the poor service was thoroughly justified.

  9. 9
    Stevie on 27 Nov 2008 #

    Hasn’t M&VE just opened a new branch in Soho on the site of the old Reckless?

  10. 10
    Tom on 27 Nov 2008 #

    Really? I’ve not been to Brewer Street for a while – their shop there was a good earner I think though. Obviously reports of their demise are very premature! That’s the way they expanded in Notting Hill, basically flooding the area with shops (the ‘Starbucks model’ before it became fashionable!).

  11. 11
    Clyde Ankle on 27 Nov 2008 #

    Reckless is still open for business on Berwick Street but is now renamed Revival Records and has one rather than two shops. Same staff, though.

    A new Book & Comic Exchange MVE store recently opened there as well, directly across the road from Sister Ray. The existing MVE down by the market remains in business.

  12. 12
    The Intl on 28 Nov 2008 #

    I worked in the credit department at Woolworth’s in Detroit for a few months in 1973-1974. Yeah, I’m unyoung. It was considered a real crap store, like you wouldn’t buy clothes or anything of importance there. However I did use my employee’s discount to get Goats Head Soup at the time. It was also their record racks in which I saw, for the first time, the debut lps from Kiss & Queen, with no previous knowledge of them. I was a major glam follower (Ahem, my explanation for buying GHS was that it had “dancing with mr d” & I thought it was about Bowie. That album really sucked.) & I was intrigued by the loosely glammy titles of said bands. But then I actually HEARD those albums. WALLY! I also remember being in the personnel office for something or other & watching the head of personnel brush a nice sized pot bud off her desk and into her wastebasket. Not a word was said. I think I also bought Pinups there. And after I came home from a beer-infested Christmas party at my boss’ apartment, I returned a phone call from my soon-to-be wife, who came right over & guided me through our first night together, replete with limp drunken almost sex. And those are my memories of Woolworth’s.

  13. 13
    Tommy Mack on 29 Nov 2008 #

    You win. Especially as I also bought Right Said Fred’s Wonderman on 7″. Also smashed up at a later stage. I was a troubled teen.

    MVE’s bargain clothes basement was always good if you cold find the diamonds in the muck: Ralph shirt for £2, yes please! (they’re probably selling them for that new in these credit-crunched times…)

  14. 14
    Sophia Russel on 22 Jan 2009 #

    Well the only thing i brought from woolies is pick-n-mix
    so rest in peace woolies, and thanks for the varity of sweets i enjoyed over many years.
    God Bless America

  15. 15
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Jan 2009 #

    rather implausibly the last thing i got from woolies was a BONSAI TREE!

  16. 16
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 22 Jan 2009 #

    god bless japan

  17. 17
    Tom on 22 Jan 2009 #

    The last thing I bought from Woolies was a pair of child’s sunglasses.

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