Well what can I say? Woolworths looks to have finally bitten the dust after clinging on for as long as I can remember. The news is made more poignant by its timing. For me, Christmas is Woolies. Among my earliest childhood memories are the TV ads featuring all manner of celebrities, which seemed to run for hours in the run-up to Christmas. As soon as they appeared, I knew Christmas was coming for real.

This childhood attachment to the retailer has continued into adult life. Some 13 years or so ago I was asked, as a retail journalist, to name my favourite store. Others said Selfridges, Harvey Nicks and a host of exclusive boutiques or food shops. I said Woolworths. Back then we had already started to witness the slow, painful death of the high street, but I always knew I could get what I wanted at Woolies - from a reel of cotton to shoe polish, nails, glue, cheap children's clothing or kitchenware. And, of course, chocolate - and loads of it! Unfortunately, this eclectic selection has ultimately proved to be the downfall of the brand .

Of course, the 25,000 employees facing redundancy puts my selfish pining into perspective. There is never a good time to lose your job, but to do so just before Christmas is a crushing blow, particularly when hopes have been raised by a host of famous names being associated with a potential last-minute rescue, from Dragons' Den's Theo Paphitis to old Woolworths hand Geoff Mulcahy. Their interest proved to be as fluffy as the retailer's mascots Wooly and Worth.

The worry now is how many more retail employees will be joining the lines outside their local Jobcentre . A survey this month by consultant Mercer shows 35% of employers expect to make reductions to their workforces next year. Retail and wholesale companies come in under average at 28%, compared with 48% of manufacturers.

The good news for the talented employees at Woolies is that selective hiring remains a top priority, with 69% of firms surveyed likely to recruit top talent at originally planned levels. The recession will not alter the macro issue of a lack of skills and talent.

Among all the doom and gloom, it is the grocery market that is providing some well-needed festive cheer. In this year's Britain's Most Admired Companies ranking, run by HR's sister magazine Management Today and voted on by peers, three of the top 10 are from grocery - Diageo, Unilever and Tesco. All three were ranked highly on ability to attract, develop and retain top talent. Companies like these know boosting morale, valuing remaining employees and continuing to develop top talent will be all the more important in 2009.n

Siân Harrington is editor of Human Resources