A NEW national high street chain has chosen Didcot’s empty Woolworths store for its first shop.
Alworths, dubbed ‘Son-of-Woolworths’ by industry commentators, will open on November 5, to be run by ex-Woolworths executives, managed by the shop’s former boss, Helen Benson, and staffed by many former workers.
Civic leaders said the chain’s choice of Didcot for its first store was a huge boost to the town.
It will employ 35 staff, rising to 50 leading up to Christmas.
Alworths will stock similar products to its predecessor, including toys, homeware, stationery, garden products and pick ‘n’ mix sweets.
The chain wants to open 22 stores in empty Woolworths stores in the UK within a year, and head Andy Latham has chosen Didcot to launch the new company.
Mr Latham, 44, who started work as a Saturday boy at Woolworths’ Redhill store 25 years ago, is a former head of stores at the national chain, which entered administration last November. By January 6, all the 100-year-old chain’s 807 stores had closed.
Mr Latham told the Herald: “We chose Didcot primarily because it was a very good store in the Woolworths days. I hope it will be good for Alworths as well. We want to be a little department store on the local high street or in market towns with a very good range of products at value prices.”
He said Woolworths failed because it was too big to cope with changing customer needs, and could not adapt to new markets.
“I was emotional when Woolworths closed,” he said. “There was a huge effect on a lot of people, and when I look back on it, I think about all the friends and colleagues who lost their jobs. At the same time, it was an opportunity for something new.
“The key thing to the vision isn’t just to be a son of Woolworths. This is about fundamentally understanding there is still a gap in the market and catering for that in a new improved way.
“Customers will see a much less cluttered store, and new ranges and lines introduced on a more frequent basis.”
He said the new store would engage with the local community, joining the town’s Chamber of Commerce and promoting Didcot.
Chamber of Commerce spokesman Jeanette Howse said: “We’re delighted that a company is going into the empty store, and for a national chain to choose Didcot out of everywhere in the country is brilliant. A lot of people miss Woolworths and this will be good for the community.”
Town council leader Bill Service said: “It’s absolutely brilliant that Didcot has been recognised by a new national chain and where Woolworths’ rebirth will begin.”