The World’s First Five and Dime Store
The F. W. Woolworth Company, or simply Woolworth’s, was a retail company and an early pioneer of five-and-dime retail. The company set trends and created the modern retail model that many stores still follow today. In fact, they are often considered the most successful of all five-and-dime stores worldwide.
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History of F. W. Woolworth Company
Frank Windfield Woolworth opened his first store in Utica, New York, in February 1879. The store was called “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” and initially appeared very successful. Though the first store eventually closed, Woolworth kept looking for the perfect location. A friend finally suggested that he should open a store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and this is precisely what he did in July 1879.
Frank brought his brother Charles into the business in Lancaster and ran the first five-and-dime stores together. The retailer offered general merchandise at a fixed price, which was usually five or ten cents, thus undercutting the prices of other merchants. Moreover, they were one of the first stores to move merchandise from behind a counter and allow the public to handle the goods rather than being serviced by an employee.
From the first store in Lancaster, Woolworths began to expand. The company made its way to Harrisburg, PA, where the store failed and was eventually moved to York, PA, and then to a location in Scranton, PA. The Scranton location is where the brothers fully developed their merchandising model.
Rise and Expansion
By 1929, the retailer operated about 2,250 outlets, and its stores continued to flourish across the U.S. and Britain. By 1932, they had raised their price ceiling up to 20 cents and then abolished all price limits in 1935.
In the 1960s, Woolworths began buying up other businesses. It started with the company purchasing shoe manufacturers and retailers and then moved on to other chain stores. By the early 1980s, their popular shoe retail chain, Foot Locker, was becoming more successful. However, even with their 8,000 locations and being deemed the largest retail store in the world, they began to feel pressure from other discount retailers such as K-mart and Walmart.
These pressures compelled the retail giant to begin relying more on their Kinney Stores, Foot Locker brand, and others. In 1997, Woolworth closed all of its remaining general-merchandise stores across the United States. They renamed the company to Venator Group, Inc in 1998, and it continued to operate retail stores across Australia, North America, and Europe into the 21st Century.
By 2001, the company primarily focused on sporting goods, thus changing the company name to Foot Locker, Inc. Then, the company relaunched its Woolworth line as a strictly online company, though some Woolworth stores were still in operation.
Though it is no longer a retailer today, there are still many establishments around the world that capitalize on the name. One such place is the Woolworth Walk in Asheville, NC. A unique soda fountain and art gallery are situated outside the original F. W. Woolworth building. Here, customers walk in and enjoy the nostalgia of what was once Woolworths.
Sadly, at the end of the day, Woolworths is gone. However, the company still lives on through Foot Locker, which few people know started as Woolworth’s!
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