WOOLWORTHS is to close its York branch after trading in the city for more than 80 years.

The store is based in Spurriergate but on January 19 the doors to the 15,000 square foot shop will close for the final time. The 44 permanent staff members will have a 30-day consultation period to discuss their futures with the firm.

Woolworths has had a foothold in the city since 1924, and Coun Brian Watson, who represents Guildhall which covers Spurriergate, said he was shocked by the decision.

He said: "I'm astounded. It's part of York. Shops come and go, but Woolies - you never think of it going. It's been there and you would imagine it would always be there. It seems to be part of the middle of York.

"You can have all your fashion shops, but they only stay for a short time and then move out. But Woolies is one of those establishments that you never expect to go.

"I've shopped in the place for donkey's years. It's been part of York for my lifetime."

A spokeswoman for Woolworths said staff members may be offered alternate positions within the company at nearby stores, depending on vacancies, or they would be given a redundancy package.

She said the decision to close the store was made for business reasons due to an offer that was made for the lease by the landlords, Aviva Staff Pension Fund.

She also confirmed there was still time left to run on the lease, but was unable to say how long that was. Although she said there were no plans to relocate to a different site within the city she said there was always the possibility that a new store would open if the right site became available.

If staff want to move to a different outlet, the nearest shops are in Selby, Knaresborough and Malton. In total, the company operates ten branches of Woolworths in North Yorkshire.

The Press has been told that Boots will be moving into the vacant store, but this has not been confirmed by the company.

All a spokeswoman would say was: "Alliance Boots is in the process of a growth strategy and part of that strategy is store location. We will consider any available building that meets our requirements."

Boots already has three outlets in the city centre, in Coney Street, King's Square and St Mary's Square, but the Woolworths building in Spurriergate is far larger than any of its existing properties. It has further stores in East Parade, Monks Cross and Acomb.

Fact file

* 1924: Woolworths opens its store in Spurriergate, York* 1939 - 1945: The store suffers bomb damage during the Second World War* 1955: The old Picture House is demolished and work starts on extending the Woolworths branch* November 1957: The new branch opens. It includes the Diamond Bar café* May 1966: Woolworths in York opens for the very first time on the Whitsun bank holiday. The "experiment" is declared a success* August 1977: Former boxer Henry Cooper meets shoppers in Woolworths during a promotional tour of Yorkshire* August 1979: Singer Lena Zavaroni, swamped by teenage fans, hands out autographed records at the store* May 1986: The store re-opens after a £500,000 refurbishment which has seen it closed for six weeks* September 1987: Staff at Woolworths in York are told to work part-time or quit* January 1992: The wrangle over Sunday opening continues. A handful of major shops, including Woolworths, decide to open* June 1994: The store announces it is to stop selling vinyl record singles* January 2008: Woolworths in York announces its closure.