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Saturday, December 27 will go down in history as the day Woolworths died. Riddled with bad debt and apparently no direction, the Pick ‘N Mix delight has ceased to be. Since news of the store’s demise circulated it has been the busiest shop on the high street as shoppers swooped like vultures in search of that extra special discount. For a documentary photographer, stores like Woolwoorths attract your camera like an electro-magnet. This Preston store was 98 years old and the second Woolworths in the country. Once a huge part of people’s lives, getting an image of Woolworths is irresistible. The reality was a little less romantic. At my local store in Preston, Lancashire, there were stories of staff being abused and punched because discounts were not big enough. I saw customers queuing with basket-loads of discounted merchandise to the checkout, demanding further discounts, then dumping the stuff when staff said no. By the final day of business, much of the store had been cordoned off and what remained looked more like a bad bring and buy sale than the thriving shop this place once was. I hold my hands up and say these photographs were taken without having sought prior permission. I just felt the desire to document an institution was greater than being told ‘no pictures’ after going through all the corporate red tape. I saw a reporter and photographer from the Lancashire Evening Post outside the store. The photographer had been denied permission to take pictures. I’m glad I got mine. I remember the one on Northumberland Street in Newcastle when I was a kid before it closed down. The one that remained, in the downmarket part of town, was much bigger at one time. In later years I used to single out Quality Street coffee creams in the Pick ‘N Mix until Nestle stopped making my favourite favoured chocolates. Perhaps that’s when it all started going wrong for Woolies.
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