Nearly 60% of the 800 former Woolworths stores have been let or are under offer, assuaging fears that the variety store group’s demise is turning town centres into ghost towns.

Discount retailers have taken the largest number of stores and have acquired 37% of the Woolies portfolio, research from property agent CB Richard Ellis (CBRE) showed.

Grocers accounted for 31% of shops while fashion retailers snapped up 15%. The remaining stores have been taken by home, sports, general merchandise, chemist and DIY retailers.

Iceland took the most Woolies stores (57), followed by B&M Bargains (35), 99p Stores (34), Heron Foods (18) and Home Bargains (17). Tesco, Poundland, Carpetright, New Look and Peacocks make up the rest of the top 10 occupiers.

Fashion retailers were keen on big, prime units in the strongest trading locations, while discounters and grocers have taken smaller stores in less prime locations suitable for convenience-led offers.

Most of the Woolworths stores that remain empty are located in secondary and tertiary locations.

Although some earlier research claimed that seven in 10 Woolies stores still lie vacant, Ciaran Bird, head of UK retail at CBRE, which advised Woolworths’ administrator Deloitte on the stores, said the CBRE study takes into account stores under offer but not yet actually occupied. He was confident deals would be concluded.

Bird said: “Given the current economic conditions, the challenges facing retailers looking to expand in such a tight market, and the fact that potential buyers are waiting until leases are returned to landlords, the speed at which Woolworths units have been taken up is remarkable.

“Cherry-picking of the stores in the first few weeks after Woolworths went into administration reflects a fundamental issue in the UK shop market - a shortage of large, prime space.”

More than half the rents agreed on the sites by the new tenants are higher than those paid by Woolworths, while 35% arebelow and 9% are at the same level.

New Occupiers of Woolworths Stores

TypeStores TakenFloor space (sq ft)
Source: CBRE


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