UK high streets are not what they once were.
Many retailers made the move to out of town retail parks, and others fell victim to changing times and the rise of internet shopping. Gone are the days of being dropped off at one end of the high street and spending a happy Saturday afternoon wandering in and out of wall-to-wall shops before being collected at the other end but, in this article, we reminisce over six of the best high street shops that are no longer with us…
Depending on when you were born, you will either remember “Woolies” as a magical wonderland made of pick-n-mix sweeties, the place where your mum bought your school uniform, the place to go to buy the latest chart-topping singles and albums, or the place you shopped with your children’s letter to Santa in hand. The first F. W. Woolworth & Co. store opened its doors in Liverpool in 1909 and the last of over 800 nationwide Woolworths stores closed its doors in 2009.
Who can forget the silver carrier bags emblazoned with the C&A rainbow stripe and logo – well, evidently many of us can as we drifted away to shop for clothes elsewhere, leading to the closure of the last surviving C&A store in the UK in 2001. Founded by Dutch brothers Clemens and August Brenninkmeijer (ever wondered what the initials stood for?) the company began trading in the UK in 1922 and it became the place to go for a fashion-fix with popular brands including Clockhouse and Yessica – and not forgetting the Angelo Litrico label so deftly modelled by “the man at C&A”.
3. Freeman Hardy Willis
Freeman Hardy Willis shoe shops were a popular fixture on UK high streets in the 70s and 80s. The first shop opened in London in 1877 and by 1900 the company was the largest footwear retailer in the world, accounting for around a quarter of all shoe sales made in Britain in the 60s. Named after three company employees, the Freeman Hardy Willis brand was at one point marketed as “FHW – For Happy Walking” but declining foot traffic into the stores led to the company’s closure in the 1990s.
Hands up who spent many an hour browsing through the posters in an Athena store back in the day – and how many of you bought the “Tennis Girl” poster in 1976? If you wanted a bit of art on your walls in the 70s and 80s, there was no better place to go than a high street Athena where everything from Monet to “Muscle Man Cradling Baby” (a.k.a. L’Enfant) was available in a range of sizes.
5. Radio Rentals
It all began back in 1937 when radios were too expensive for most people to buy. Radio Rentals made it possible to get your hands on one through more affordable monthly rental payments. The same business model was then applied to TVs as they became the must-have-to-keep-up-with-the-Jones’ item, and then VCRs. We might reminisce over “the good old days” but who’d have thought that 40-inch colour TVs would become commonplace in living-rooms that can scarcely accommodate them – and that we’d be recording videos on our phones?
Okay, MFI stores were more likely to be situated in retail parks rather than high streets but the demise of the furniture retailing giant is still worthy of a mention here. Founded in 1964, MFI was producing affordable flat-pack furniture long before IKEA became fashionable, and anecdotal statements suggest that in its heyday one in three Sunday lunches would have been cooked-up in an MFI kitchen and around 60% of children born in Britain would have been cooked-up in an MFI bedroom. The company closed its doors in 2008, but if you’re missing the “Hurry, only four days left!” sales hype, you’ll be pleased to know that VictoriaPlum.com are reviving the brand with a range of low-cost bedroom furniture.
So, there you have it. Six of the best UK high street shops that are no longer with us. How many hold fond memories for you? Perhaps your own six of the best list would feature a different line-up of defunct stores, so here are a few more contenders to consider:
- Blockbuster Video
- Austin Reed
- Our Price - Shakin' Stevens video (1987)
Times change, but not all change is bad. Which shops do you miss the most?
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