Woolworths, Comet, Jessops, HMV (almost) and now Blockbuster, WTF eh? To be fair, am surprised the Blockbuster chain lasted as long as it did. That 1990’s shop front design was dated in the Eighties, and did you ever visit a branch where the Slurpee machine wasn’t out of order? The administrators over the door of each of the above stands as a right sad affair for the UK high street, that’s a given. Very scary too to think of the accumulative job losses totalled between them. While not many will lose sleep or wail into their Shreddies at yet another high street shop demise, I’d assume there’s very few of us over the age of 21 who’ve never had a connection/affinity/relationship with at least one of the above ex-traders. For years, Woolworths was a bustling mainstay of the shopping centre in East Kilbride, where I spent many a Saturday afternoon during school age. There were things you knew you could get in Woolies in the one visit, and more importantly things you knew you couldn’t. The place where you’d buy your pick’n’mix for the cinema, a pair of black shoe laces and a clothes horse to replace the one that had been on its last hind legs for years. To my memory, our town centre shop never moved round their merchandise, meaning you could lay a hand to the tan boot polish your mum had sent you a message for with minimum fuss. Rows and aisles of stock items imprinted on the brain that just needed the switching on of a natural, inherent Sat Nav at the door was all part of the Woolies experience. Looking back, the memory of it being the store from where you dared your best pal to do a bit of lifting made it the busiest knocking shop around, bar none. Sad times indeed that day Woolworth passed through the retail pearly gates. And who but a financial advisor with a crystal ball would’ve predicted it being the prototype of big company retail closures.
At 18, heavy into my music, I was an old skool, proper Britpop kid. I’d spent a childhood recording my parents 1960’s albums onto TDK cassettes, thinking I was the personification of cool. To this day my anticipation of Oasis second album What’s the Story, Morning Glory? has never been surpassed by any other record release. That’s where HMV stepped in. I remember dogging college to get down to the store just before opening time. As the doors unlocked, there lay the CD albums stacked up. Me and all the other Oasis kids ran for the same spot. In 1995, it was still a buzz, that physical effort to procure the kind of music that just might change your life. I probably wasn’t as hip as I thought, as I should’ve sought my purchase from one of the reputable independent stores around Glasgow at the time. But HMV was there, solid, predictable and ready to take my money; each a pre-requisite in the days prior to online buying and digital downloads. The sticky summer of 2005 holds two striking memories, forever in my recall; the London bombings and a stint working part-time on the shopfloor for Jessops. My knowledge of advancing digital processes was a bit rusty, leaving me learning on my toes. Despite not enjoying the overall experience, a brief highlight was in selling a high end SLR camera package to my old music teacher, Miss Muir, fondly nicknamed Kizzy, (for Roots reasons). On reflection, the reason I picked up a great deal of selling advice was through listening to the passion and knowledge of my then colleagues. There was a bit of a geek thing running though the shop, and I remember one of the guys always reading the latest photography magazines just to keep abreast. The fall out of which was a genuine wealth of advice that was passed onto customers amidst nasty sales targets. Now the chain has come to pass, no Jessops equates to a limited number of places in UK towns and cities where you can excitedly fondle your camera with a load of expertise in your ear just prior to purchase. The same can said for the nice people at Comet (past tense), one of whom I bought a lovely laptop from minus the pushy. The sad truth of it is, for a good while, quality electonics have been available in supermarkets, with undercut prices. But try asking an Asda or Tesco general assistant the nitty gritty workings of an HP scanner, if you know what I mean.
It may be too late to save the iconic retail names that have bit the dust in recent times, and God knows it stinks to high heaven that the UK taxpayer will pick up the tab for redundancy and holiday payments to their ex-employees, but all the talk has encouraged me to do my bit and grab the last of my Christmas gift money hitting the high street this weekend. I wonder where I can get my hands on a fully functioning Slurpee machine…? Ah that’s right…eBay!