Five big names that disappeared from our high streets

Woolworths collapsed in 2008. Picture: John Stillwell/PA
Woolworths collapsed in 2008. Picture: John Stillwell/PA
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The collapse into administration this week of BHS and Austin Reed highlighted the tough times facing many of the country’s retailers.

The last few decades have been particularly brutal for the retail sector, as failure to keep up with ever-changing consumer habits has proved the death knell for many iconic brands.

Safeway was swallowed by rival Morrisons. Picture: TSPL

Safeway was swallowed by rival Morrisons. Picture: TSPL

On Tuesday, business advisory firm AlixPartners was appointed joint administrator to Austin Reed, which has 100 stores, 50 concessions and employs 1,184 staff.

The move dealt another blow to Britain’s high street following the administration of BHS on Monday, which has put 11,000 jobs under threat and threatened the closure of up to 164 stores.

READ MORE: Five lost Edinburgh shops you may remember

Here are five other big names that have disappeared from our high streets – some from a failure to keep up, while others were simply absorbed or taken over by competitors in the cut-throat world of retailing.

Blockbuster suffered amid online competition. Picture: TSPL

Blockbuster suffered amid online competition. Picture: TSPL


Fondly remembered for its pick and mix sweets and as the place to get the latest record, Woolies even had its own record label – Embassy Records – and remained a UK market leader in terms of music sales well into the 1990s, until strong competition from supermarkets such as Tesco and Asda finally encroached on its position.

Between November 2008 and January 2009, 807 stores closed across the UK with the loss of 27,000 jobs.


Even some supermarkets found the transition into the 21st century too challenging. Safeway was, like Woolworths, originally a subsidiary of an American firm until it was bought by the Argyll Foods group in 1987.

Safeway was the first of the major UK supermarkets to introduce a loyalty scheme when it brought out its ABC card.

In 2003, Morrisons – until then a relatively minor player in the grocery sector – made a £2.9 billion swoop on the chain.

Safeway shopfronts began to disappear in favour of the Morrisons brand and other units were offloaded to Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. By November 2005, the Safeway brand had disappeared from the UK.


With its iconic blue and yellow logo, Blockbuster was a common sight on UK streets as recently as 2013.

Many a great weekend began with a trip to the video store for a movie, with crisps, fizzy drinks and popcorn usually picked up along the way.

It was a cheap night in – as long as you remembered to rewind the video and return it on time to avoid a 70p late fee.

Home delivery services such as LoveFilm and, more recently, the rise of streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime finally killed off home movie rentals, with Blockbuster UK entering administration in January 2013 and closing its remaining stores by the end of that year.

Electronics Boutique

For today’s gamers raised on Sega Mega Drives and Super Nintendos, Electronics Boutique was a favourite Saturday destination.

The “console wars” heated up as cartridges and tapes were abandoned in favour of CD and DVD formats. Graphics got better, gameplay got more advanced and Electronics Boutique remained a common sight on the high street and in shopping centres across the country until 2002.

Unlike the other entries on this list, Electronics Boutique didn’t go under. It rebranded as Game after buying the rival chain.

Game hasn’t been without its own difficulties, however. In 2012, 277 of the firm’s 609 UK stores were closed with a loss of 2,104 jobs when it went into administration. The company – now called Game Digital – returned to the stock market in 2014 and now has almost 600 stores across the UK and Spain.

Sports Division

Set up by Sir Tom Hunter in 1984, with the entrepreneur selling trainers out of the back of his van, Sports Division grew to become one of the biggest sports shops in the UK by the 1990s.

The place to go for new football boots, trainers, tracksuits and schoolbags, it was sold to its main competitor JJB Sports for £260m in 1998. JJB itself called in administrators in 2012, with 133 stores closed and 2,200 jobs lost, although Sports Direct secured about 550 jobs when it acquired 20 branches.