Sign of the Times

The current news and talk is stuffed with how badly things are going at the moment, but it's often the tiny details of our lives which really bring home how well we're doing or not. Two weeks ago I was struck by the number of construction cranes* I could see in the yard of the hire firm by the M1 motorway in Sheffield. Surely a sign that times are hard in the building industry - in the north at least.

This week a foray into Chippenham's High Street revealed a number of similar details: the number of newly unoccupied shops (at least 8); a rush to snap up the cheap offers available at our stricken Woolworths; the lack of fresh Christmas trees on the outside of the shops - a simple, but lovely decoration in keeping with our small town that's become rather a tradition. However, for me the most telling detail is the closure of one of our charity shops.

The news tells us these are booming as shoppers turn from buying new items to make their hard-earned cash go further. But I suspect charities are getting less donations of quality used goods too as people make do and mend with what they already have, or put them for sale on eBay to try and earn some extra money. And in a stretch of shops where 3 out of 4 of them are charity outlets (plus Oxfam is just across the road), I suppose it's inevitable that at least one of them is no more in the current economic climate.

This is my latest Changing Chippenham post - the last one can be found here.

* = construction added to the text after several commenters said they thought I meant the bird. Sorry for the confusion folks!


  1. Was really sad to see or local Woolies on the local news last night. We haven't had am charity shops close yet, but they are all packed with people.


  2. I was shocked when I heard that Woolies will be no more, it was such a British institution. Often mentioned in British novels, that's how I learned of its existence. ;-)

    Over here we are not that hard hit - yet, but I think the effects of this financial crisis will become apparent in the new year here too.

    My word verification is woring, it's almost correct, isn't it?

  3. Hello dear VP yes it's so sad, Woolies is very typical 'Brittish' how are you going to live without it? There are tough times...I wonder what is going to happen with the market today, when the senate said no.
    Have a great weekend/ LOL Tyra

  4. So sad really, often thought of as a British Institution, FW Woolworth was a US company that came to the UK with a successful formula in 1909.

    It saddened me to see them in such dire straits as I had my very first job aged about 12 or 13 in the early 1970s, working 5 hours on Saturday, and a couple of hours 2 afternoons a week after school. Here I learned so much, and I learned the difference education made. I knew although it was fun for a few hours, this wasn't what I wanted to spend my life doing. Biggest discovery was serving Lesley Judd(Blue Peter fame) who was buying several pairs of cotton knickers!

    Comes to something when even the charity shops close though, that is worrying.

  5. Yes, the news over here in the US yesterday was that our national public radio (which depends on underwriting and donations to survive) had laid off a lot of employees. I love listening to NPR--it felt like friends were being let go...

    It seems like every day there is another round of worrying news.

    We all need to simultaneously hunker down and reach out to our friends and neighbors.

  6. Hi VP, bad things all around. We have lost a couple of the thrift shops in my small town, a shock really. Our city is not a hotbed of financial fortunes, with job layoffs and factory closings everyday it seems. These small shops offered good deals, I have shopped there myself. Less money just means less shopping, no matter how low the prices are. Time to make do and hunker down. Woolworths in the US have been closed for several years now, in our locales anyway.


  7. Shame about Woolies but it's been on the cards for a long time sadly.
    It could be that the charity shop closed because the lease expired or for some other reason. I know that some have noticed that donations have dropped considerably recently. xx

  8. Hey there, it is a real problem all over. I just think that the media have talked us into this very deep trough here in the UK.

    When in Canada, I watched the news both Canadian and US, and they always seemed to state the facts but werent all doom gloom.

    I always try to shop around anyway. This had been seen coming very early last year, hence the STIMULUS cheque received in the US and in Australia.

    Unfortunately we are an Island. Who seems to have ever more expensive tastes, be it plastic carp made in China or out of season food.

    I am of that age where I did just catch the last recession in my Teens, where a few people at my school lost their house. Other than that I was oblivious.

    It seems to go in cycles. Years of plenty then years of Famine. The depression, then WW1, then we had a fab-ish time during the 20-30's, then WW2. Then boom after the war, 50's were ok-ish, then England went made in the 60's in more ways than one. Then the 70's strikes and redundancies, doom gloom.

    then came Thatcher and the yuppies, boom time again. The recession in the 90's. Come the end of the 90's till now it has been a boom time, banks making free with the money...

    I am sure we will all recover, in the mean time like everyone else has already said it is batten the hatches time.

    I hope my history is right... I am sure someone will point out somewhere that I am wrong. But the meaning of the comment is we are going to come out of this at some point.

    And to remember as twee as it sounds 'Jesus is the reason for the season'. and to get a bit of gardening in to this VERY long comment, sorry VP.

    Is there any difference to the taste of brussel sprouts bought loose or on the spear still? Have a good weekend every one!

    ps. the word verification was VITRO

  9. I feel a bit sour about charity shops.

    I used to buy things from them over the year, ready for Christmas presents; and even though I don't buy clothes often, any I did buy came from them. But, recently, the charity shops around where I live have become more expensive than the cheap 'proper' shops.

    I feel mean when I don't go into them - but when they close, I sometimes think (even if I shouldn't!) "Ha! You shouldn't have got so above yourselves!"

    I think charity shops have a role in recycling and in providing affordable clothes for not-very-well-off people as well as in raising money for their particular charities - especially since with quite a few of them their not-very-well-off customers are the very same people for whom they are raising money.

    So when charity shops close . . . it may be because leases have come to an end (as Flighty suggests) but in some cases it may be because people have stopped shopping there - because so many have lost track of their customer base, as did Woolworths.

    I haven't given anything to Charity Shops for ages. I prefer to pass things on to friends I know need them and will appreciate them rather than try to inflate their value.

    How's that for a grump!


  10. Sometimes I'm a bit slow and thus it took me a while to figure out how birds (=cranes) tie into the construction industry, but of course you meant builder cranes not bird cranes. DOH! This summer when I visited my niece in Colorado, I was struck by how much building was going on there. Here in Michigan (can you say dead auto industry), not so much.
    ~ Monica

  11. I know what you mean. When we forst came to Colchester in late 2003, one road in the town soon became our favourite- it is lined with little shops, mostly independent. NOW, it is more than half empty. Each one we've asked why, when they've been closing down, has said that increased business rates are to blame, doubling in a few years. Terrible. Now there are lots boarded up with graffitti on them. It is no longer a nice place to walk down, and this in just 5 years.

    The indoor craft market that has only been going since September, and which had a wee table of my stuff in, is closing tomorrow. We'd hoped it could keep going till Xmas at least. Dreadful!

    And yes, we have a large Woollies! It is one side of a "posh" market square- Debenhams on one side, TK MAx on one side, one side with little jewellery shops, cards shops and a coffee shop, the 4th is Woollies, a really big branch. So I wonder what will take its place, if anything?

    Colchester had a nice shoppping base, without a shopping centre. Lots of different streets with interesting shops. I reckon you could fit them all on one street now. There is a point at which a town can't turn back- a point after which it just becomes a dump. I fear that we are very close to that point but the council won't realise till it is too late.


  12. ps- we have a road with lots of charity shops too, and Help The Aged is closing down!

  13. VP,

    I can't believe Woolworths is closing...I have wonderful memories of sitting at the soda fountain after school.
    There weren't many stores like it.

    I have noticed that the quality of goods at our thrift shops is not the same...and they are crowded. It will get worse before it gets better, I fear!


  14. Monica, You are funny!

    Yes, sign of the times for sure. The latest news here is the of course the auto industry. We GM lovers (all my family and hubby's family love em) are anxiously holding our breath for the outcome of it all.

  15. Popped into our local Woolies today. While paying I asked the assistant if she knew when they were closing. She didn't and admitted that the uncertainty is terrible. How awful for all staff concerned.

  16. I didn't know it was called Woolies? I remember my grandma buying aquamarine lotion there and another one called Desert Rose I think. They smelled soft and grandmotherly.

    We had two shops go out of business in our town. They didn't even tell their employees. But two more shops quickly went up in their place. Seems to be out with the old and in with the new. I think it's just a readjustment. Kinda hard to readjust from Woolies though huh?

    I too thought you were talking about bird cranes.

  17. Our charity resale shops are doing a booming business. Unfortunatly, it does not appear that donations are keeping up.

  18. Hi there,
    Totally agree with you about Woolies. I shall miss ours in the country so much, as it's one of the few remaining places where you can buy anything sensible (ie not stuffed fabric mice in clothes or tins of over-priced fudge) without driving ten miles to the nearest bigger town... Although a particulat type of person never particularly liked to own up to going to Woolies, you could bet your bottom dollar you would always see them in there, or boasting about their bargains later. Where will I get cheap children's wellies now??
    Thanks very much for your link to Off the Rails; I'm posting again after a too-long absence.... Just need to get a good sunny day with some spare time to update the photos of the railway carriage house - it's looking great, just in time for Christmas.
    Will enjoy catching up with your blog - hope all is going well with you xx Elspeth

  19. Well, this post struck a chord with lots of you :)

    I'm delighted - and it's good to see a bit of a debate going on too as well as quite a bit of reminiscing, especially Zoe and Gail's very differnt tales. My early memories of Woolies (yes, USA people, your venerable store had an affectionate nickname over here) was my mum giving me 6d to go to the broken biscuit counter to get as many as I could. There was always the dilemma of whether to go for plain (more biscuits) or chocolate (yummy but less of them). Needless to say chocolate nearly always won!

    I've been a bit annoyed by people's comments in the media about Woolies not reducing their sale goods by enough. They're sneering at 10-20% off. Time was that would have been considered good! And I'm sad to see the staff's expeerience that Almost Mrs Average encountered seems to be typical rather than the exception. It must be awful.

    Like Elspeth, I'm particularly sad for the smaller communities where Woolies is pretty much the only store supplying much of the day to day goods which keep life going. I'm thinking particularly of places like Barmouth, which we've visited on holiday.

    Flighty - that's a good point re the shop lease possibility. I hadn't thought of that. And Helena, Help the Aged is one of the ones that's survived!

    Lucy - good point re charity shop pricing. Threadspider and I were discussing that very issue over coffee on Tuesday. Oxfam in particular seems to be adopting a policy of relatively high priced goods. I can understand it from their point of view, they need to maximise the cash raised, but then if people go to the cheapie new shops instead, then they've rather shot themselves in the foot!

    Gary and Deb - most of the charity shops are noticeably more busy this year, but for how long I wonder, particularly if they're not getting the donated goods they need.

    Susan - our media's under threat too. It's sad about NPR, I always think of it as being similar to our BBC in terms of its remit. Over here, our local press in particular is pressurised. Much as I may use my local paper as a source of humour and quirkiness, I would hate to see it go.

    SOL's right about cycles. Remember, we've survived downturns before, so why won't we survive this one? NAH's been made redundant 3 times and actually viewed them as opportunities in the end. So Frances, Tyra and Yolanda, let's hope there's a rainbow of opportunity during these difficult times, irrespective of which country we're in.

    Monica, Tina and Flowergardengirl - thanks for telling me about your crane confusion. You'll see I've amended the original post accordingly!

  20. I think we lost our Woolies this week as well...we have already lost, 3 Estate agents, and have 5 Charity shops and we are only a very small town...Wantage not far from you.

  21. Anne - welcome! It's very sad. I think Wantage is about the same size as Chippenham?


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