DORCHESTER over the years has been home to multiple beloved businesses.

From Next to Dodgsons DIY, the county town has been home to many different shops over the decades.

But a store that rose from the ashes of Woolworths had a successful yet short stint in Dorchester town centre.

Wellworths, later known as Wellchester, was a popular shop that seemed to sell just about anything and people flocked through its doors to see what bargains could be had. 

The store’s background and a woman’s fight to save her friends’ jobs to reopen a prominent store made national headlines and even inspired other wannabe businessmen and women to do the same. 

Here is the story behind a revived Woolworths store that inspired Dorchester and a nation.

What was Wellworths and where was it?

Dorset Echo: Claire Robinson inside WellworthsClaire Robinson inside Wellworths

National chain Woolworths entered administration after a period of financial hardship caused by the severe financial crisis in September 2008.

Despite some interest from successful businessmen, the company entered administration with debts of around £385 million.

A closing down sale started in December 2008 and by January 5, 2009, all Wollies stores shut down.

The South Street branch in Dorchester town centre closed in December 2008, but manager Claire Robertson wanted to open a new store within the building and retain the store’s staff.

All 26 staff lost their jobs when Woolworths closed but around 20 were back to work for Wellworths as the new store slowly but quietly picked up momentum. 

Who was Claire Robertson and why did she open Wellworths?

Dorset Echo: Wellworths manager Claire Robertson celebrates her first year of trading in DorchesterWellworths manager Claire Robertson celebrates her first year of trading in Dorchester

Claire Robertson was a Saturday girl in Yeovil’s Woolworths when she was 15 before she became a trainee assistant manager at the Dorchester branch in 1994.

Mrs Robertson made her way up to becoming the Dorchester store’s manager and jumped at the opportunity to take on her own business inspired by Woolsworths.

Citing its position in Dorchester town centre, she described it as a ‘profitable branch’ and recalled the Woolworths closure as ’very sad’.

She believed that Wellworths would have a familiar feel about it for Woolies customers who would recognise many of the staff who lost their jobs when the High Street chain folded.

What was more remarkable was how it was during a time when huge brands in town centres were struggling and a new business opening seemed to buck the trend. 

She said at the time: “We’re going to open in mid-March and we can’t wait. We know a lot of our customers will be back and new ones.

“And it’s good news for the town because this is a prime site and nobody wanted to see it empty.”

She added: “This is like a dream come true for me. Before Woolworths closed, I sent my CV and a business plan to the owner and he formed a consortium to set up Wellworths.”

When Radio 2 DJ opened Wellsworths

The story behind how a businesswoman wanted to open her own store in the former Woolies branch sparked national attention.

Television crews from the BBC, Channel 5 News and Sky TV visited the store to talk to Mrs Robertson and her staff with more interviews on Radio 1 and Radio 5 Live.

Upon hearing the news of the revived store, DJ Chris Evans was so keen to open Dorchester’s new Wellworths store that he offered to bring his own ribbon and scissors.

An euthanasic Chris Evans officially reopened the store on March 11, 2009 – four months after Woolworths had closed.

Inside the store, it was a similar experience to Woolies.

Dorset Echo: Chris Evans with Claire Robinson at the store openingChris Evans with Claire Robinson at the store opening

Customers could buy things such as kitchenware, DIY, confectionery, toys, party goods and seasonal lines including Easter eggs. You could even get the beloved pick 'n' mix.

BBC One later aired the documentary ‘How Woolies Became Wellies: One Woman's Fight for the High Street’ on April 2, 2009, following Robertson's journey from the closing of Woolworths to the opening of Wellworths.

The former Woolworths store proved a runaway success and welcomed its 100,000th customer in June 2009.

To make the occasion, Miss Robertson presented Heather Ikin and her daughter Hannah with two large bags of Wellworths goodies as well as a £30 voucher and a bunch of flowers.

From Wellworths to Wellchester – How its name sparked legal issues

Dorset Echo: Mrs Robinson outside the rebranded WellchesterMrs Robinson outside the rebranded Wellchester

The store continued to be a success and was much loved and visited by Dorchester residents and tourists.

The store however ran into legal troubles with Shop Direct Group, who owned the Woolworths brand after buying it out of administration.

Shop Direct would not agree to terms that would allow the company to expand as Wellworths and warned they would face limits on its growth if they continued to use the name.

Mrs Robertson said at the time how Shop Direct ‘initially supported’ the opening of Wellworths but were unhappy with the use of the name, claiming it was too similar to Woolworths.

The name was changed to Wellchester, an obvious reference to Dorchester, in late October 2010.

Dorchester town crier Alistair Chisholm said at the time how the owners of the Woolworths brand should have better things to do than make an issue about the name.

Mr Chisholm said: “How sad that a great big corporation that happens to have that control over a certain name is flexing its muscles.”

What happened to the store?

Dorset Echo: Poundland, DorchesterPoundland, Dorchester

Things appeared to be rosy for the beloved store with customers popping in while walking through town and continuing to browse its shelves.

But the owner of the premises made the decision to increase the rent, which left the store's management with no option but to close.

Poundland meanwhile announced plans in August 2012 to move into the flagship South Street store as a closing down sale took place at Wellchester.

Mrs Robertson said: “It was doing well and we were making a profit every year. Sales were good and I thought it would carry on.

“But the place belonged to the landlord. I was the employee manager.

Dorset Echo: END OF AN ERA: Dorchester’s Wellchester store is closing

“I set it up, did the ground-work and ran it but the landlord got an offer he couldn't refuse.

“It's very sad for everyone involved because it's the end of an era.”

Claire Robertson had left her position in June 2012 to set up her own consultancy firm as the store announced it was closing the following month.

Poundland opened soon after Wellchester’s closure and still stands to this day.

Claire Robertson is currently involved in her family's sewing business Waistcoats Unlimited, which has been going for over 30 years.

She started running it around five years ago and recently took over the business. Mrs Robertson also carries out some freelance sewing work for a couple of businesses.