Woolworths begins closing the doors on more than 200 outlets

SHOP closures at iconic high street retailer, Woolworths began at the weekend, with more than 200 outlets across Britain and Northern Ireland being affected.

The retailer, which was due to celebrate its 100th year in operation in 2009, went into administration last month with debts of nearly £400 million (€420m). In truth, the company has been in trouble — with mounting debts, falling sales and losses — since the tail-end of 2006. Administrators recently warned that shops would close if no buyer for the company was found.

Theo Paphitis — a former owner of the Ryman’s chain of stationery shops, ex-director of Millwall Football Club and current panel member on the BBC entrepreneurial fundraising programme, Dragon’s Den — had been linked with a takeover consortium but pulled out of the running.

A further 600 Woolworths stores are due to close on January 5. In all, nearly 30,000 people — including more than 600 in Northern Ireland — are due to lose their jobs as a result of the closures.

Despite the high profile consumer rush on the sales this year, retailers are bracing themselves for a lean time ahead. The British economy — amid weakening consumer spending patterns — could shrink by as much as 2.9% next year.

A number of high profile retailers — including the entertainment chain, Zavvi (formerly Virgin Megastore) — are calling in the administrators. Bigger names such as Next and Marks and Spencer have been busy slashing prices by as much as 50% on their goods, in an attempt to attract more shoppers.

The likes of Debenhams and Tesco have gone further by cutting some prices by as much as 70%.

However, supermarket chain Waitrose had its busiest ever run-up to Christmas, as it saw a year-on-year sales rise of 3.5% in the seven days up to Christmas Day. Post Christmas sales on December 27 were up by 37% year-on-year.

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