FIVE out of the six former Woolworths stores on Teesside are still empty more than six months after the last of the shops closed their doors.
Only the Middlesbrough store has been re-let to another tenant, with stores in Redcar, Billingham, Hartlepool and Stockton’s Portrack Lane and High Street still vacant.
Nationally 560 of the 807 ex-Woolworths stores have still not been taken over by other retailers - 69% of the collapsed retailer’s portfolio. The North-east has proved the toughest region in the UK to sell on the stores, with 28 of 31 still closed.
In January, Teesside’s final Woolworths store closed its Redcar branch with the loss of 32 staff, although talks with a national retailer are understood to be at an advanced stage.
Councillor Mark Hannon, Redcar & Cleveland Council’s Cabinet member for economic development, said: “We should know soon. It’s the biggest void - the biggest piece of the jigsaw that needs to be filled.”
The ex-Woolworths store in Middlesbrough’s Hillstreet shopping centre is one of the few to have found a new tenant. Value retailer Waremart has taken a temporary nine-month lease on a 32,500 sq ft unit in the centre, which is around 85% occupied and has seen footfall increase by 1-3% on last year.
Centre manager Peter Drabble said there were signs that bargain hunters were beginning to spend again.
“Consumers are more discerning now,” he said. “They are looking for value-for-money purchases.”
Woolworths’ demise - which left more than 300 people on Teesside out of work - highlights the misery facing retailers as the recession leaves gaping holes in many of Britain’s high streets.
Woolies, which fell into administration late last year, is one of a swathe of companies to be hit and ongoing tough trading conditions are blighting efforts to find new occupiers.
Andrew Savage of property consultancy Sanderson Weatherall’s Teesside office - in negotiations to bring a national fashion retailer to the ex-Woolworth’s store in Billingham - said some retailers did not want to risk taking on long-term leases when the economic outlook was so uncertain.
However, new data has offered some respite to the beleaguered sector, with fine weather and robust food sales behind a 1.4% year-on-year rise in retail sales last month - the third increase in six months.