Nostalgia – It’s always disappointing when that shop you love disappears from the high street forever which, sadly, seems to be more and more often now. Let’s revisit a few of the shops that I used to love through the 80s and 90s, starting with..
We all miss Woolworths, it’s just a shame we didn’t use it enough when it was here, from the well stocked pick and mix through to some high streets only option for buying music. It was a great shop that has left an empty void on many a high street (often a real void as no one wants to take on leases for large premises anymore).
Growing up, I spent many a Saturday morning wandering the aisles of Woolies. Exploring the big box PC games, checking out the latest VHS releases and then spending my limited pocket money on high sugar items from the sweet section; life was very good. The toy section used to get a considerable going over when I was much smaller, think primary school era, but it could never match the dedicated toy shop the town had.
When I hit 16 I managed to land a job in my local store working evenings after school, It was horrible having to restock the kitchen area but we found ways to have fun. Paul (a colleague and technically my manager at that time) and I would hide in the stock room and throw the loose knives at empty boxes, It was a way to lose an hour or two. The job did get better when it came to the weekend – I would work Saturday and occasionally Sundays on the entertainment counter, selling CD’s, Videos and as the years progressed, N64, PlayStation games and mobile phones.
As an ‘adult’ with children in tow, the one thing I can safely say I really miss is Ladybird clothes. Younger me never considered Ladybird as a range that anyone needed to care about but now? It was good value, well made and honestly, just pee’s all over the likes of Primark which leads me on to this story..
My brother was a manager at a London branch of Woolworths, one day they heard a scream from one side of the store. The entire staff based charged over to find a member of staff pointing at the photo booth, its inside was fully covered in faeces.. Someone had dropped their pants, shat in it and then smeared it everywhere. It turns out this is a good distraction technique, hundreds of pounds of Ladybirds clothing was stolen by the same group of people who had set up the distraction and seeing that all the staff had charged over, they got away scot free.
Martin the Newsagent
Anyone remember this one? Before you say it, I know – Martin’s still exists in large numbers across the UK but on the St Albans High Street, not anymore.
We had a giant one and to give you an idea of how big, it became an HMV later in life. It was BIG!
So why does a newsagent chain remain so ingrained in my memory? The tills were at the front of the store while magazines were about 40 meters away at the back of the store. This meant recently pubescent me could get in, cheekily thumb through a few top shelf magazines and then leave with a bottle of Virgin Cola (the Pammy bottle) without being questioned. Wait, that sounds like I nicked the drink, I didn’t – I just read dirty mags for free.
Not much to say about this one, I just like seeing that old cream and blue signage.
No images of this one sadly, it seems to be a very little known store only remembered by the people who still reminisce over 8-bit micros.
Growing up with a 48k Speccy was great, some of my favourite games were on that little beauty of a machine and I still play them to this day. We were lucky and had cousins who dubbed us copies of their games but sometimes, we would want to play something they didn’t have.
We had three choices for game shopping in St Albans (we did get a smaller, market style shop a lot later) – W H Smiths, Boots or Software Plus. I’d often only buy games from the first two when I received a book token for a birthday or Christmas, this wasn’t often. In fact, the only one I remember clearly is buying Monty on the Run from Boots with a voucher I’d won from Hertfordshire Constabulary. It didn’t work, Mum and Dad assumed it was my fault rather than get a refund.. Thanks guys.
Software Plus was an amazing store, rack after rack of games plus all the latest consoles on show. They were also an importer, allowing people to get hold of machines from across the ocean. Sadly, it was another store who just couldn’t afford rent and once the 16-bit scene was changed out for the likes of PlayStation and N64, they couldn’t compete. Electronics Boutique, Game, HMV and Woolworths offered games, consoles and accessories all for lower prices, pushing them out of the market for good.
Riders the Toy Shop
This was a huge loss to our town, a truly independent toy shop that was fair in price and had great stock. Riders was based on Chequer Street in St Albans and shared a premises with Intersport (do you remember them)? You entered in to the left of the building but at two points inside, you could just cross straight into Intersport to look around instead.
To this day, I can remember the layout of the store:
As you walked in the till was directly in front of you, looking down the whole store. To the right was a weird little cubby area that had Warhammer figurines to buy (just box sets including original Epic). Moving forward you then had dolls (and action men) on the left and Tomy Train etc on the right. In the middle of the store were some outdoor toys including balls and giant polystyrene gliders (1.5 meter wing span – genuinely huge for £5.99) which then lead into a goldmine of Lego and Playmobil. Finally, you got to the end of the store which was packed floor to ceiling with model kits.
Sadly, another business that no photos exist of online so I can’t show you one of my favourite places to visit as a kid (even in to my teenage years!). In its final years it moved down London Road but the premise was much smaller and it didn’t stay on kids radars for long.
Another place I worked, albeit for a short time before they closed our store in favour of the one in the Maltings, was Our Price. If you weren’t a big town with a large shopping center then you didn’t get the likes of HMV or Virgin Megastores in the early days.
St Albans, for some reason, had two stores; one in the Market Place and one over in The Maltings. As I started to expand my musical taste, I would visit Our Price more and more (check out Music Memories to hear about my first album I remember purchasing from them). They often had well priced VHS which was well received by me, I would often spend pocket money on them to continue my vast collection – for some reason, I really remember buying Series 1 of Men Behaving Badly for £4.99 from them.
Working for Our Price was great, we could order in any album we wanted (imports too) and got a staff discount. The Market Place store was often found with Metallica, Rammstein, Pantera playing loudly over the entertainment system – I wonder why people went to the Maltings instead? When the company decided two stores in one town was just too much, guess who’s store didn’t make it..
The In Shops
Once upon a time we had the In Shops, an indoor market of sorts that had fixed shops of various sizes. As a kid, I would often visit just for the Arcade but as I got older, discovered the joys of Grasshopper, Army Surplus, Chaos City Comics and Rough and Tumble.
The Arcade regularly moved to whichever vacant location was largest. Sometimes we were lucky and had 10+ machines including classics like Terminator 2, Space Harrier and Street Fighter but other times, it was tiny with 2 or 3 machines maximum. There were two games I played a lot – Cruis’n USA which I managed to complete multiple times and Sega Title Fight. Title Fight was the most amazing boxing game that my brother and I played whenever we could.
Rough and Tumble was quite a large softplay spread across two levels in the building. Yes, it smelt of farts but for a couple of pounds you could lose your morning easily. It also had an eerily deep ball pit that you could properly bury yourself in.
I never ate in the food court but I do remember it had a juice bar, burger bar and Chinese restaurant. Hidden out of the way was a café on the other side, I did have a fair few sausage sandwiches in there.
More ‘Nostalgia’ posts here.
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