Demolition of old Saint John Woolworth's building stirs nostalgia, excitement

The demolition of a high-profile derelict building in uptown Saint John is now underway.

The building, next to Saint John's City Market and across the street from Kings Square, was once home to a Woolworth's Department Store. The store closed in January 1994 and the building has sat empty in recent years.

People in Kings Square cheered Wednesday morning as construction crews began tearing the structure down.

"We've been waiting for this moment forever," said Cierra Stewart, one of many who were taking video of the building's tear down.

Demolition of the old Woolworth’s dept. store building was supposed to begin about a week ago, but the discovery of seagulls nesting on the roof required a removal permit @CTVAtlantic #saintjohn pic.twitter.com/XsdTOrNvOV

— Nick Moore (@CTVMoore) June 2, 2021

Saint John developer Percy Wilbur was given approval from Saint John city council to demolish the building. Wilbur is planning to build a multi-use complex on the site.

"On Charlotte Street would be retail and preferably a grocer or pharmacy," said Wilbur. "Then the lower side of King Street would be a financial institution followed by two floors of office/commercial, followed by nine to eleven floors of an apartment building above that."

Wilbur said the building's demolition was delayed by about a week after the discovery of seagulls nesting on the roof. A permit was required to remove the seagulls.

Wilbur said the building opened in the 1950s and in recent years had sustained extensive water damage.

"The concrete was good but the steel undoubtedly was pretty corroded and not worth salvaging," said Wilbur, adding that when he purchased the building there was about four feet of water in the basement.

The building's demolition is expected to take a few weeks to complete.

MEMORIES OF WOOLWORTH'S DEPARTMENT STORE

Long time Saint John residents who were watching the demolition Wednesday remember when Woolworth's was an uptown retail giant on the corner of King and Charlotte.

Some great video from Jan. 4, 1994, the last day inside #SaintJohn's Woolworth's department store + other uptown SJ retailers from the day. Demolition of the old Woolworth's bldg. will begin before the end of May with plans for a new retail/office/residential complex @CTVAtlantic pic.twitter.com/mQ7pBY5Rpf

— Nick Moore (@CTVMoore) May 5, 2021

"I remember going in there and buying myself a pair of pants and a shirt and a pair of sneakers for less than a 20 dollar bill," said Bill MacDonald. "You can't do that today."

Dale Parker remembered going to the old Woolworth's store on Saturdays with his mother and siblings to eat at the lunch counter.

"It was a great store to shop in," said Parker. "Everybody was there and you knew everybody."