A retail behemoth enters its dying phase. The first tranche of Woolworths closed down yesterday (farewell Bedford, Braintree and Bognor Regis), another batch go on Monday, more on Tuesday, a penultimate phase on Friday and the final nail in the coffin on Monday 5th January. As closedown approaches, watch the bargains deepen. From 50% off to 70%, 80%, even 90%, all stock must go. Fancy buying your shopping basket? That'll be another quid, thanks. That clothes rail's going too if you want it. But the girl behind the till, sorry, she's walking out of the door for nothing.
The Woolworths in Norwich used to be huge. You know the one, sandwiched between Stadium Delia and the station, just off the inner ring road. It opened ten or so years ago as "The Big W", Woolworth's attempt to break into out-of-town pile-it-high warehouse shopping. Local people flocked to spend their boomtime cash in this vast cathedral-sized space, and it could take a good half hour to get round from one side to the other. The toy section had everything a child could want, and homewares stretched as far as the eye could see. Even Roys of Wroxham had nothing on this place. Alas, the good times couldn't last.
It's only half a Big W now, with one end sold off to Curry's to flog flat screen TVs and laptops. Woolworths has clung on to the dingier half, not quite so well heated, and not a laptop in sight. Several aisles are boarded off, and a sign apologises that the toilets are shut now that the in-store cafe has closed down. It's not a welcoming sight, but there are still massive bargains to be had if you happen to want the motley assortment of goods they've got left.
In particular, toasters and ironing boards. There are still racks and racks of plain blue ironing boards to be snapped up. Nobody wanted them at £8, and even at half price they're hardly flying out of the door. Wait until Friday, however, and you might well get one for under a quid. Not that you need a new ironing board, obviously, but at those prices it would be a shame not to. And toasters too, very ordinary white toasters, very own brand, very Woolworths. Again they're hardly a necessity, but if you have any children who might be heading to university in the next 15 years it'd be criminal not to buy one for them.
The toy department was a pale shadow of its former glories. A few colouring books, some stickers, various Doctor Who action figures from less popular episodes, that sort of thing. Over in homewares just the last dregs remained - assorted crockery, plastic coathangers and an awful lot of WorthIt J-cloths. On one forlorn shelf I spotted the lemon squeezer I'd bought last month for £2 now down to just a quid (and soon, I suspect, to be even cheaper than a single lemon). There was rather more interest from the public in the entertainment section at the rear of the store. Mass produced mainstream CDs for a few pounds, unwanted books for less, and an assortment of computer games now reduced low enough to keep several teenagers happy.
I took the opportunity to stock up on a few more of life's essentials at rock bottom prices. A couple of plastic luggage tags for £1.24, a proper metal tape measure for 37p, twenty plastic wallets for £1.18, and six rolls of sticky tape for 49p. Sure it'll be possible to buy similar stuff in the High Street after next week, but no doubt tackier imports and not of equivalent value. I was even persuaded that what I really really need in my kitchen is one of those drawstring bags that holds scrunched up carrier bags, because at 26p it was almost as cheap as not buying one. I felt like a vulture picking the last scraps of fresh meat off a freshly dead carcass (but I tried not to show this in my eyes when I queued up at the till on the way out).
"7 days" proclaimed the sign in the front window yesterday, you have seven days to strip us dry. But I suspect there'll not be much left by Friday, just a few Daniel O'Donnell CDs, a selection of green check Ladybird dresses (age 7-8) and the unquenchable Pic'n'Mix. It's not how the place would like to be remembered. Come in store number 1247, your time is up.