Little Bits of History

Five and Dime

Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 17, 2011

A F. W. Woolworth Company store

July 17, 1997: F. W. Woolworth Company closes. The first Woolworth store opened in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 1879. Frank Winfield Woolworth began his chain with a $300 loan, about $9,750 in 2011 dollars. Woolworth’s was one of the original five-and-dime stores. The store sold discounted merchandise at fixed prices – usually five or ten cents. These prices were lower than other local merchants. The merchandise was set out for the customer to handle without aid from a sales clerk. Before this time, most merchandise was kept behind a counter and a clerk would gather your purchases together for you to buy.

Woolworth’s first attempt at marketing was made in Utica, New York in 1878. It failed. After the successful opening of the store in Pennsylvania, Woolworth brought his brother into the business. Frank and Charles worked together and opened more stores, often in partnership with outsiders. Sometimes, the brothers went into partnership with “friendly rivals” to maximize their combined purchasing power. The Woolworth brothers had a flagship store in Philadelphia.

The success of these stores was phenomenal. In 1910, Frank Woolworth commissioned the construction of the Woolworth Building in New York City. The building was completed in 1913 and was the tallest building in the world until 1930. Woolworth paid for the building in cash. This building served as the company’s headquarters until its demise. The building was sold by Woolworth Company’s successor, the Venator Group in 1998.

In 1924, the brothers were operating six different chains of stores in the US and Canada. Rather than continue in this manner, they brought all 596 stores together under one banner and incorporated the F. W. Woolworth Co. Eventually, the stores began to also include lunch counters after they proved to be successful in England. The concept of a low price store was copied by many but for many years, Woolworth held market share. The stores often stood as anchors stores in shopping centers and malls. These large stores drove many local merchants out of business.

In the 1960s, Woolworth’s became the victim of a new trend as even larger discount stores came into being. In 1962, Woolco was founded. This was the same year S.S. Kresge Company opened K-Mart, Dayton’s opened Target, and Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart. By its 100th anniversary in 1979 the Woolworth chain was the largest department store chain in the world. The competition became too much and sales dropped. In 1983 Woolco closed and by 1993, the entire company underwent a restructuring. On this date, Woolworth closed its remaining stores and changed its name to Venetor which then changed to Foot Locker, Inc. There are still Woolworth named stores outside the US.

“Dreams never hurt anybody if you keep working right behind the dreams to make as much of them become real as you can.” – Frank W. Woolworth

“It’s not your salary that makes you rich, it’s your spending habits.” – Charles A. Jaffe

“Money doesn’t bring happiness, only shopping does.” – JLL Research

“Know how to effectively voice a complaint or make a claim at a retail store.” – Marilyn vos Savant

Also on this day:
Whoops! – In 1939, Douglas Corrigan takes off in the wrong direction.
M-I-C-K-E-Y – In 1955, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California.