March 12, 2006

“Five and Dime”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 2:08 pm

Woolworth sign.jpgAnyone remember five-and-ten-cent stores? I do.

The first five-and-ten-cent store was built in 1879 by Franklin Woolworth (the items were actually priced and five and ten cents), and later he and his brother Charles established a retail empire of more than one thousand stores.

As a boy, no ten-cent bus ride into Newark was complete without spending at least a half hour in Woolworth’s 5 & 10 on Broad Street. My Granny used to refer to it (and those stores like it) as the “Five and Dime”. It seemed to me back then that there wasn’t anything a person could want that could not be bought in a 5 & 10. Woolworth’s even had a lunch counter that served good and affordable food.**

The “Five and Dime” sold hardware, kitchen and household things like potato mashers, clothespins, clothespin bags and the rope itself to fashion a clothesline and the clothesline pulleys, one of which would be mounted on the house near a window or porch and the other to a “clothesline pole”. One could buy laundry soap, starch, socks, underwear, and even some clothes at the 5 &10. Books and toys were also always for sale.

We even had a Woolworth’s (with a lunch counter) in the town where I now live, but it closed several years ago, to be replaced by a “Dollar Store”. Now we have no less than three “Dollar Stores” in town. A month or so ago, I finally got around to visiting the one that replaced Woolworth’s, thinking that it might be somewhat the same.

It wasn’t.

The merchandize seemed cheesy to me. These independently owned operations seem to be more like a final dumping ground for things manufacturers could not sell to the better-known chain stores. And, there was no lunch counter. I won’t be returning any time soon.

Of course, it is possible that the merchandize in Woolworth’s was cheesier than I remember, but I don’t think so. At least I don’t like to think so.

** It was a segregated lunch counter in a Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina that was the site of the first Sit-In in 1960, which was followed by similar demonstrations across the country. I recall the Woolworth’s in Newark being picketed by people urging shoppers, “Don’t buy at Woolworth’s! Don’t support lunch counter segregation!” Clearly this was part of a larger effort to economically hurt the Woolworth company, because the lunch counter in the Woolworth’s in Newark was not segregated. This was a source of puzzlement for those shoppers who weren’t paying attention to the news.

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