Few retail experiences are more depressing than Retail Week’s local Woolworths in Camden Town. A visit on Wednesday revealed big gaps on the shelves, a range that could only be described as eccentric and a store that hadn’t been touched for years. On the high street outside, rivals from Game to Argos to 99p Stores were doing a better job in almost every category that Woolies sells.

Just 79 miles south on the Sussex coast is Woolworths in Rye. It’s pretty much the only multiple retailer in town and while a lick of paint wouldn’t go amiss here either, it’s at the centre of the community. It is still where the town’s kids go to get their entertainment and its adults to get hardware.

The timing of Woolworths’ strategy review, before the appointment of a new chief, may be odd, but the outcome is right. In towns up and down the country Woolies still plays a vital role and, despite its appalling store standards that have left it easy prey for rivals like Wilkinson, it retains loyalty and affection retailers with lesser heritage would kill for.

Whoever the new chief is will have a huge job on their hands and the worsening market won’t help. Taking a ruthless, unsentimental look at the chain is a must, because its future lies as being the biggest store in the smallest towns.

Plus ça change...

In 2006, in conjunction with a BRC campaign, we set landlords a challenge. Commit to accepting monthly rents and we would publicise it in Retail Week. In the December 15, 2006 issue we published the names of those who accepted the challenge. Of 471 landlords contacted by the BRC only 50 responded positively, including heavyweights such as Orkney Islands Council. Not one was a private sector landlord.

“The property industry isn’t noted for responding quickly to changing market conditions, but we would have expected some give,” BRC head of property Paul Browne told Retail Week at the time. Things have changed since then, but slowly, and the picture landlord’s champion Liz Peace paints (page 21) doesn’t tally with retailers’ experiences (page 18).

In these market conditions, monthly terms should be offered on all leases, new or existing, regardless of whether the retailer is in trouble. When a normally low-profile leader like Simon Wolfson speaks out, landlords really must listen.