Woolworths U.K. Closing Up Shop

New York City Woolworths, for decades one of the United Kingdom’s most popular retail chains, is going out of business.

The beleaguered chain, whose official name is the Woolworths Group, announced in mid-December that it would shut down its 807 stores by Jan. 5. In fact, the closings have already begun, with more than 400 Woolworths stores across the United Kingdom shuttered. The remaining stores will follow suit in a staggered fashion by the Jan. 5 deadline.

A retail mainstay in the United Kingdom for nearly 100 years, Woolworths’ troubles have been mounting for some time. Its stores seemed increasingly outdated and old-fashioned, particularly compared to such deep-pocketed rivals as Tesco, Asda and other competitors. But its problems intensified in 2008 under the global credit crunch as it struggled under the weight of its debt. The situation grew dire when it was forced to pay cash while buying goods from suppliers because trade credit insurers were no longer prepared to cover its suppliers.

American retail legend Frank Woolworth opened the first outlet of what would become F.W. Woolworth Co. in 1879 in Pennsylvania. Thirty years later, in 1909, he opened his first U.K. store in Liverpool.

In 1982, Woolworth sold its U.K. business to Kingfisher. The Woolworths Group was spun off from Kingfisher and began trading in 2001.

“The end of its era was probably around the 1970s,” said Richard Perks, an analyst at Mintel International in London, in a Bloomberg report. “Its glory days between the wars were great, but it never really reinvented itself.”