Despite the lure of cheap mince pies and gravy, our reporter is not won over by the chain offering very nearly everything at a rock bottom price
The second coming of Woolworths? Well, no, not if the Hemel Hempstead branch of B&M, in Hertfordshire, is anything to go by. The store may stand on the site once occupied by the iconic, and now defunct, brand. But any of the warmth that the previous inhabitants may have had is certainly long gone.
Stepping inside, B&M has all the charm of a hospital – you don’t want to be there, but sometimes you may need to go. With plastic blue floors and faded white walls, with the odd ceiling tile appearing to come loose, supermarket aisles greet you as you enter.
Going for the pound shop vibe that has swamped the high street, shelves are packed high with a vast and eclectic mix of goods. There are tea bags next to toys, wash baskets above wine, and cat food opposite glittery toilet seats.
The alcohol selection offers the sparkling white wine “blanc de blanc” for £2.99, or the Stonewells light rose at £1.99, which helpfully reveals each glass is 60 calories.
Over at the pets section an array of nearly 20 varieties of dog bones awaits, followed by at least 100 different bedspreads, cushions, pillows, curtains and towels. And as two women discuss which action figures to buy their children for Christmas, further down the aisle another shopper opts for some cheddar and ham.
With one nod to Woolworths, the store has a pick ‘n’ mix, while the music choice is from an old fashioned collection of 1950s R&B – a welcome relief from the looping Christmas songs dominating rival stores.
With a Poundland directly opposite, B&M has its work cut out. However, by not restricting itself to a single price point it has the luxury of offering very nearly everything at a rock bottom price.
Looking for a heater? No problem. How about some new curtains? Sure. A canvas of downtown Manhattan sunset to hang above your bed? Of course.
The store was not suffering from the strain of extra Christmas shoppers, despite the lure of cheap mince pies and gravy granules by the entrance. Staff seemed keen to maintain a well-run and clean store. One worker dressed in a suit and tie spent a good 10 minutes studiously examining an endless display of tinned soups and vegetables.
Margaret Leist, 66, from Luton, had just finished her shopping. She said: “I got everything I wanted. I shop here a lot because they just have everything. It means I can get all I want in one go, which is really useful, and the staff are very helpful.
“They even ordered me something in from another store when it was out of stock. I can certainly see them doing well and expanding.”