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Big names vanished from our high streets

12:00am | & News

Once firm fixtures of the British High Street, some of the biggest names in retailing have vanished over the past 40 years. Among the latest to join this growing list of "do you remember...?" shops is British Home Stores, with 164 BHS outlets around the UK holding closing down sales after the business went into administration in April this year.

So let's take a look at 10 other once-familiar chain stores that have slipped away.

Woolworths – whatever you needed, from postcards to pick 'n' mix, chances were you could find it at Woolworths. The American-owned chain opened its first UK branch in 1909 and quickly spread across the nation, with "Woolies" becoming a firm favourite. But a hundred years on the chain was struggling to survive as the "credit crunch" bit. All 807 stores were closed down between December 28th, 2008, and January 6th, 2009. The Woolworths brand survived briefly online and its Ladybird children's clothing range is now part of the Littlewoods online business.

C&A – known for quality clothes at reasonable prices, Dutch firm C&A announced its withdrawal from the British market in 2000, with the closure of 109 stores. Retail analysts said it had failed to keep pace with changing fashions and it recorded several losses in the 1990s. Increasing competition from mid-market retailers such as Next and Gap helped hasten its demise.

Radio Rentals – established in Brighton in the 1930s, Radio Rentals initially rode the boom in demand for radios, renting them rather than selling. It later followed the same rental model with televisions, video recorders and other electronic goods with a prohibitively high purchase price. But as competition grew in the consumer electronics market prices began to tumble and more people chose to buy outright. Radio Rentals was eventually swallowed up by another firm, BoxClever, although the brand lives on in Australia.

Comet – another business tracing its roots to the 1930, although its first electrical good store opened in 1968. Comet quickly grew, with high street stores across Britain, but in 2012 it ran up losses of £95m. It was famously bought for £2 by a capital investment firm, but it failed to turn the business around and all 236 stores were closed by Christmas.

Fine Fare – one of the UK's home-grown supermarket brands, Fine Fare was established in the 1950s and expanded rapidly through the '60s and '70s. But by the 1980s it was struggling in the face of competition from other rapidly-growing chains such as Tesco and Sainsbury's, which were opening larger out-of-town outlets. Eventually Fine Fare was sold to the owner of Gateway in the late 1980s and its stores rebranded or closed.

WH Smith Do It All – in 1979 long-established stationer WH Smith decided to get into the booming DIY business. Right from the start it struggled to compete, merging with Boot-owned Payless DIY in 1990. When sales still suffered WH Smith sold its half to Boots for a £1 gift voucher, with Boots later selling to Focus DIY, which itself went into administration in 2011.

Midland Bank – not quite a store, but still a fixture on our high streets, Midland was one of the UK's big four banks in the 1970s, along with Barclays, NatWest and Lloyds. Established as the Birmingham and Midland Bank in 1936, it pioneered many changes in the banking industry, but was taken over in 1992 by HSBC. Its branches were rebranded as HSBC from 1999, but many smaller branches have since closed as online banking becomes more widely used.

Freeman, Hardy and Willis – starting in Leicester in the 1870s, this business became one of the first national shoe shop chains in the UK, sparking many imitators. Its size as a retailer meant it could produce shoes in large quantities and offer them cheaply to customers at a time when the only other option was expensive custom-made shoes. Ironically that is also what finished it off, unable to compete with even bigger cut-price chains selling cheap foreign-made shoes. FHW became part of the British Shoe Corporation and ceased trading in the mid-1990s.

Dewhurst the Master Butcher – founded on Merseyside in the late 1800s, Dewhurt's had 1,400 outlets by 1997, but had gone into administration less than a decade later. Increasing competition from supermarkets selling pre-packaged meat at cheaper prices hit the national chain of butcher's shops hard. Health concerns in the early 2000s also saw a move away from red meat. Dewhurst's was simply too big to sustain and went into administration in 2006.

Safeway – in 2002 Safeway was the UK's fourth largest supermarket, but event the big boys can go under. Its problem was that the other three, Tesco, Asda and Morrisons, were growing much more quickly impacting its profits. By 2004 Safeway was floundering, leading to its acquisition by Bradford-based Morrisons. Some stores, mainly in areas which already had a Morrisons, were sold off to other retailers but the majority were turned into Morrisons stores. By November 2005 the Safeway brand had disappeared.

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