'Emotional': Huge queues as first Wilko stores reopen

Shoppers queue outside the reopened Wilko in Plymouth on Friday. (Reach)
Shoppers queue outside the reopened Wilko in Plymouth on Friday. (Reach)

Even in its heyday, Wilko was hardly a shop people would queue for.

But that’s exactly what shoppers in Plymouth did on Friday - as the historic retail brand returned to the high street.

Wilko collapsed in August, shutting its 400 UK shops. Almost all of Wilko’s 12,500 workers were made redundant as a result.

Administrators for the business sold off 71 stores to become Poundland shops, and up to 51 stores to reopen under rival discounter B&M.

However, the process also saw CDS Superstores, the parent firm of The Range, buy the Wilko brand for £5m. It has already relaunched the Wilko.com online platform and started selling products under the Wilko brand at The Range shops.

And on Friday, the first physical Wilko stores reopened in Plymouth and Exeter. The Plymouth opening was even officiated by the city's lord mayor, Mark Shayer.

Chris Dawson, founder and chairman of The Range, started as a market trader in Plymouth and said of the reopening: “You can see the crowds here today, even on a cold Friday morning - it's not slowed down all morning.

Staff at the relaunched Wilko store in Plymouth. (PA)
Staff at the relaunched Wilko store in Plymouth. (PA)

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“The staff got very emotional - and so did I.”

Another store is set to open in Luton next week as CDS brings the brand back to high streets across the UK.

CDS plans to open more Wilko stores next year and said it is planning to expand the brand to Northern Ireland for the first time.

The new owners have said the relaunched stores will stock the retail brand’s traditional homeware and garden products, but with a 20% wider range of items.

Shoppers enter the new Wilko in Plymouth. (Reach)
Shoppers enter the new Wilko in Plymouth. (Reach)

'Of course I am sorry'

The store reopenings come after the former chair of Wilko apologised to the thousands of people who lost their jobs when the retailer went bust.

Speaking to MPs on the Business and Trade Committee on Tuesday, Lisa Wilkinson said: “I am devastated that we have let each and every one of those people down with the insolvency of Wilko.

“I don’t know how to put into words how sad I am that we have let down all our team members, all our customers, our suppliers, and our advisers.”

Pushed by committee chair Liam Byrne to apologise directly, Wilkinson said: “You can have the word sorry, of course I am sorry… I am sorry that we are not there supporting these people anymore.”

Wilkinson appeared visibly upset when she explained the reason why she had not previously sent out an apology to staff.

“Before Wilko went into administration, or it might have been shortly after… I asked to do an announcement to all team members to thank them, but the advice from the directors and the administrators was that I should not do that.”