Woolworths in liquidation:10 Vesey Path, Poplar E14 Three weeks since my last visit, and it's all change at my almost local Woolworths. Last time the shelves were full and the aisles were empty. Now it's the other way round. The store is closing, the merchandise is being liquidated, and the local population has been through the store like a plague of semi-efficient locusts. Buy now while stocks last.
There's no security guard at the entrance any more, which says a lot about the quality of the goods remaining inside. Shelves of sweets, especially of the foamy sugary Haribo kind, are still particularly well represented. Will nobody buy the 20 boxes of mint green Mingles stacked opposite the checkout? And don't worry, because further inside there's still a plastic rack of multi-coloured pic'n'mix. I suspect these scooped candies are a bit like the ravens at the Tower of London - when they've vanished, all is truly lost.
The toy section's looking a little depleted. There's still plenty here to fill Santa's sack, but nothing any self-respecting kid would have written on their Christmas list. One aisle is already empty, taped off to prevent further disturbance. Close by is what's left of children's clothes. This aisle looks like a tornado's swept through it, with blouses and coats and tiny plastic wellingtons scattered haphazardly across the floor, intermingled with discarded cards from a single pack of Doctor Who Top Trumps. Look carefully, there might be something left in your toddler's size.
Homeware, now a far more eclectic mix than usual. Don't come looking for Pyrex or toasters, the decent stuff's longgone. But if it's something of the order of a pair of scissors or a novelty penguin mug you need, then you might still be in luck. Certain colours of paint are available, but not many, and the haberdashery section is not yet fully diminished. In the stationery department a mute store worker busies himself restacking the shelves. It seems there are plenty more notepads in the storeroom out the back, and an awful lot of packs of economy biros, but just the one book of raffle tickets.
Groups of local youths wander in and out, maybe searching for a bargain Wii game (all gone) or perhaps just hoping to shoplift a DVD before the doors close. A weary assistant returns an opened tin of Jelly Babies to the front desk - someone's helped themselves to a handful and the remaining sugar offspring must now be condemned to destruction. Two veiled ladies pick through the assorted remnants on a shelf of entertainment leftovers. Something here will do the kids for Christmas, not that they celebrate it, but you have to buy something don't you?
And on every shelf is a big red percentage mark-down, be it ten or twenty or 30% off. There's a helpful table underneath for those who can't work out what 20% is ("was £1, now 80p" "was £2, now £1.60"). Very little is priced at the maximum half price discount, just greetings cards and school clothes you'd never have dreamed of buying anyway. Signs everywhere warn "No Refunds, Exchanges only". The chain's wholesale buyer misjudged the local population when they purchased umpteen black laptop bags - no amount of downpricing will shift these. But nobody needs to leave empty handed, this is still a store filled with useful bits. For now.
I head to the snaking queue at the checkout, weaving my way through a canyon of under-a-quid sweet packets. I am conspicuously the most well-off person in the queue, and also one of only four white faces in the store. Three mixed-race schoolgirls stand together in front of the till, their hair in frizzy bunches, and with tasseled boots sticking out from beneath off-black leggings. As formulaic R&B plays over the in-store loudspeakers, they jiggle and sway and mime along to the lyrics. The assistant drops their pile of chocolate-based purchases into a bag, and takes their pennies, and eventually they move on.
I hand over my purchase selection to the nearly-redundant bloke at the till. I'm buying 80 large envelopes and some shoelaces and a roll of brown paper, because you never know when you're going to need brown paper and in the future you'll never know where to get it. I offer a twenty pound note from my wallet, and am pleased to be given more than fifteen back. I sigh at the message printed at the bottom of my receipt: "Avoid Jan Sale queues, Xmas returns can be accepted from Monday 29th Dec". Somehow I'm not convinced this store will last that long. But there are still some real bargains to be had here, and I fear that whoever takes over this shell of a building in 2009 won't sell any of them.