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Past Times

From Littlewoods to Woolworths: 9 lost gems of Dundee’s retail past

We have taken a look back at some of the places we've loved and lost over the decades.
Graeme Strachan
Littlewoods Dundee
Littlewoods was a fixture in the Overgate for decades. Image: DC Thomson.

A string of great stores have vanished from the centre of Dundee over the decades.

There’s been plenty of change through the years, with many comings and goings through the different decades and generations.

Household names from big-name chains to little independent retailers have been confined to the history books.

But these were the shops which knitted our high streets together and graced the bustling thoroughfares before the days of online shopping.

We have taken a look back at some of the Dundee shops we’ve loved and lost.

Their names live on, even if they’re now long gone.

How many do you remember?


Arnotts in Dundee.
The January sales at Arnotts in 1986. Image: DC Thomson.

The five-floor store, with its huge range of goods, was a fixture on the High Street up until its closure at 5pm on January 4 2003.

The building began its trading life in 1888 as a one-windowed shop run by David Miller Brown which expanded to become one of Scotland’s biggest department stores.

D.M. Brown was taken over by the House of Fraser in 1952 and expanded into the vast emporium that became Arnotts in 1972.

It was the scents from the perfume counters that were Arnotts’ most defining feature.

Alongside its Christmas department, the store also had a shoe department, a china department, and it even sold wedding dresses.

On the day of its closure, the workforce gathered on the shop floor to raise a glass and say goodbye to the much-loved department store.


BHS in Dundee in 1978.
The BHS opening in 1978. Image: DC Thomson.

British Homes Stores opened in the Wellgate Centre in 1978.

Now Dundee residents could enjoy the one-stop-shop for clothes, household items, fragrance and beauty products without traipsing around town.

The light and bright shop with a cafeteria helped make shopping a hobby.

Many Dundonians may have less fond memories of the annual pilgrimage to BHS during the summer holidays to get new school uniforms for the coming year.

Still going strong in the 1990s, the Dundee BHS underwent a big revamp and took up almost the entire Murraygate end of levels one and two.

It was a sad sight when the shutters came down at BHS on August 20 2016.

Burns & Harris

Burns and Harris in Dundee.
Burns & Harris was a Dundee institution. Image: DC Thomson.

The stationers and printers began life in Dundee in 1886 when William Burns and William Harris decided to set up a business for themselves.

Burns served his time and gained experience with the best firms in the city while Harris learned his trade in Cupar and also practised his craft in Perth and Dundee.

The first premises opened at 112 Nethergate and were continuously occupied by the company until it relocated to the Overgate in July 1986.

The shop stocked everything from pens, notepapers, envelopes, postcards, greetings cards and wedding stationery to diaries, calendars, maps and computer supplies.

For the artist there was a comprehensive stock of watercolours, acrylics, oils and pastels, crayons, brushes, art boards and easels.

Burns & Harris moved to Commercial Street in 1996 before closing in 2012 after losing the fight against increasing competition from larger retailers.

Disney Store

Minnie and Mickey Mouse at the opening of the Disney Shop.
Minnie and Mickey Mouse during the opening celebrations for the Disney Shop. Image: DC Thomson.

The Disney Store opened in Murraygate in 1997.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse arrived for the opening of the merchandise shop which was formerly the building which housed G. L. Wilson.

Walt Disney might well have known all about Dundee back in the day.

Dundonian Jimmy Macdonald became the second voice of Mickey Mouse, replacing Disney himself, from 1946 to 1976, so this was a full circle moment.

Sadly there was no fairytale ending.

The store closed in 2017.


Dixons is one shop that has been lost from modern Dundee.
The Dixons shop front seen in Murraygate in 1994. Image: DC Thomson.

Dixons in the Murraygate was everyone’s go-to store for anything electrical.

This was the primary high street tech shop in the 1980s which promised the “lowest prices guaranteed on the world’s best brands”.

We were all dragged around there by our parents and would get into trouble for pressing buttons on the tape decks and home computers on display.

Hitachi, Sanyo, Sony and Tandy were among the names on the shelves alongside Dixons own brand which was Saisho and usually much cheaper.

Dixons decided to take its business online in 2006.

John Menzies

John Menzies Dundee shop in 1985.
Shoppers in the John Menzies book section in 1985. Image: DC Thomson.

John Menzies’ Murraygate store had something to suit everyone.

The first floor was an Aladdin’s cave with a huge music department including cassette tapes and 33, 45 and 78 RPM vinyl singles and albums.

The second floor sold toys including finger-flicking Subbuteo teams, Hornby model trains and Scalextric sets with cigarette advertisements adorning many of the cars.

John Menzies moved across the road when the Woolworths store closed in March 1984 and opened “with everything on one huge floor”.

In the 1990s the company moved into finance and aviation.

The Dundee branch closed in 1996 and was replaced by a Tesco Metro.


Littlewoods in Dundee's Overgate in 1993.
Christmas shoppers at Littlewoods in 1993. Image: DC Thomson.

Littlewoods opened at the Overgate Centre in October 1968.

There were so many customers crowding the sales floor in the first hours that store staff had to leave the building to get from the front to the rear.

In 1971 the selling area of the store was extended to the first floor which included making the self-service restaurant even bigger with 236 seats.

The window seats were what everyone wanted but you had to get there early.

Littlewoods food hall stocked sweets, fresh fruit and vegetables, canned goods, bread, cakes, biscuits, cheese, bacon and cooked meats.

Selling area across both floors included everything from clothing to household textiles and fancy goods to footwear, knitting wools and children’s toys.

Eventually, the changing nature of shopping led to the closure of Littlewoods stores in April 2005 with the Dundee site being taken over by Primark.


Toymaster in Commercial Street toys.
Some of the goods on display at the Toymaster store in 1983 in Dundee before the shop was lost to history. Image: DC Thomson.

Toymaster was the old-fashioned toy shop which stood in Commercial Street and was a Mecca for children from far and wide.

Children of the ’80s were interested in electronic gadgetry, fashion and music, although the top-selling toys were usually linked to crazes that enjoyed a meteoric rise.

In 1984 the arrival of a group of squashy, 15-inch-tall cotton dolls caused chaos.

The Cabbage Patch Kids had gone on sale in the US the year before and parents had camped outside malls and toy shops to make sure they could take one home.

The Toymaster store in Dundee received orders for their stock before Christmas 1984 from customers in America, where supplies were still to catch up.

The shop closed in May 2018 but still has branches in Broughty Ferry and Cupar.


Woolworths Murraygate shop in 1981.
Woolworths in the Murraygate in 1981. Image: DC Thomson.

Murraygate was the flagship store and children saved up their pocket money to spend in the toy department which was packed with goodies and gadgets.

From the 1970s, the entertainment department was a big attraction to shoppers who could pick up the latest singles, vinyl, cassettes and videos at affordable prices.

And, of course, no trip to Woolworths was complete without taking home some sweets from the famous pick and mix aisle.

Woolworths took over the Tesco store in the Wellgate Centre in 1993.

Woolworths announced days before Christmas 2008 that all its UK stores would shut with the loss of 27,000 jobs.

Shoppers poured into the Wellgate store for the closing down sale.

By the afternoon, half the store, with nothing but empty shelves, was taped off, before the shop ran out of carriers, and had to put purchases in black bags.

Everything was gone before the shutters went down.

Another ghost of high street past.