Woolworth’s – We Miss Them
Woolworth's

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.

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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.

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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.

Woolworth's
The Woolworth’s store at 3rd & Pike in downtown Seattle, WA in 1986. Photo by Steve Morgan, Portland.

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.

Video: Woolworth’s Vintage Commercial from 1979

Woolworth’s Today

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!

Woolworth's

About Frank Windfield Woolworth

Frank Windfield Woolworth was an American businessman who founded the F.W. Woolworth Company in 1879. He was a pioneer in the development of the modern retail industry, and his company was one of the first to offer fixed-price merchandise. Woolworth was also known for his philanthropy, donating millions of dollars to various charities and causes. He was a self-made man who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the wealthiest men in the world. Thanks for the opportunity to help you write this article!

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41 responses to “Woolworth’s – We Miss Them”

  1. Karl Goldman Avatar
    Karl Goldman

    What about Woolco?

    1. Eric James Hartman Avatar

      Woolco was a subsidiary of Woolworth that closed in 1984. The existing stores were eventually bought by Walmart

      1. Jack R. Weyrick Avatar
        Jack R. Weyrick

        I remember going to Woolworth’s Store, in South Bend, IN. My Great Aunt Helen, worked their, at the time. She worked in the “Toy Department”. I was about 9 years old!
        I don’t remember a “Diner” being there, at the time!

    2. Chuck Napierkowsi Avatar

      We had a Woolworths store in Downtown PITTSBURGH when I was young me and my mom went there it was nice going there

      1. Dolores l. Robledo Avatar
        Dolores l. Robledo

        My mother took me you could buy candy by the pound and cookies they had the chocolate cookies like the one youbuy for a chocolate sandwich yes my mom like it also the plate lunch it was meat chop ,with gravy beans and rice,in San Antonio,it’s closed, but the. Building is still there

  2. betty hughes Avatar
    betty hughes

    Some day some how I hope they make a come back,it was always great to shop their

  3. Kim Avatar
    Kim

    She held that department down when I was a little girl and did everything

  4. carole A shearer Avatar
    carole A shearer

    We had a Woolworth’s in our town. When I was a junior in high school my dad allowed me to work part time during the Christmas season. Wonderful memories!

  5. Elizabeth everett Avatar
    Elizabeth everett

    I am 72yrs. And I remember when Woolworth was in almost every big city. I like millions of others loved their food counter. Where if you popped the right balloon you got a discount lunch

  6. Lewis Case Avatar
    Lewis Case

    Shopped in a Woolworths in CapeTown South Africa in 2012.

  7. Anita Avatar
    Anita

    Having been raised in NY, I loved Woolworths and was glad to find one at Brookfield Square when I moved to Wisconsin. I really enjoyed shopping at this store.

  8. ROBERT THOMSEN Avatar
    ROBERT THOMSEN

    Yesterday’s “Dollar stores”

    1. Lorri Vallese Avatar
      Lorri Vallese

      Woolworths were nothing like a “Dollar Store”. they have so many things like fish and birds, records, jewellery, clothing. Had the first Toyland” for Christmas. Dollar stores are alot of crap now.

  9. ROBERT THOMSEN Avatar
    ROBERT THOMSEN

    Some also had their own Santa Claus in the 40’s (Ridgewood Queens). People would slur them with comments “Where did you get that? Woolworths?” or I’d overhear “She got all her jewelry in Woolworths”. Woolworth was the poor mans department store and was slurred back then just like we slur “Dollar Stores” today.

  10. Stan Blow Avatar
    Stan Blow

    I loved working in MNG training out of college in 1972 with All it’s variety & lunch counter as hated to see it go since they were much More fun to shop in than Walmart today. Still think they were the greatest shopping store ever.

  11. Jerilyn Lessley Avatar
    Jerilyn Lessley

    My mom worked there for a long time. I worked there I nww my junior and senior years of high school. Great job!

    1. Pat Avatar
      Pat

      I will never forget the Woolworth store on Market Street in San Francisco. I Loved the Counter.

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  14. Kathleen Densberger Avatar
    Kathleen Densberger

    I loved Woolworth’s as a child. With a small amount of money, I could buy Christmas or birthday gifts. I grew up in the 50’s in Westwood, NJ and Woolworth’s was in the center of the main street in town. I can still picture it in my mind’s eye. Thanks for the memory.

  15. Bud Avatar
    Bud

    I worked for Woolworths from’71 to’82. Managed two Woolworths and a Woolco. Thought I would retire from there. Oh well. Great company. And I have a similar copy of that menu above.

  16. Judy Avatar
    Judy

    Loved shopping at Woolworths. Also loved their food counter. It was a treat to eat there. I do miss it.

  17. Leroy Avatar
    Leroy

    I loved working there in the late 80s Woodward an west grand blvd

  18. Colleen Avatar
    Colleen

    Loved the cashew nuts under a heat lamp to keep them warm and they would scoop them up and pour into a small white paper bag. The candy counter was great!

  19. Everett Baldwin Avatar
    Everett Baldwin

    When I was younger my parents would always shop at woolworth on main street Monticello New York in the 1970s

    1. Sandra Mitchell Avatar
      Sandra Mitchell

      I worked at the Woolworth’s store on North street, Middletown, NY in the 1970’s. Loved working there.

  20. Shirley Howell Avatar
    Shirley Howell

    As a Child, my grandmother, my sister and I would ride the city bus into downtown Phoenix, have a slice of pizza and lemonade at Woolworths before shopping or going to the movies. My first job was at the lunch counter in Chris Town mall Woolworth.

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  22. […] were able to carry. Today, in the big box stores there is a big variety, and therefore, a large selection of […]

  23. Patti Woodward Avatar
    Patti Woodward

    I would love to go see the original store

  24. Linda Magnola Avatar
    Linda Magnola

    I remember going to the Woolworth’s in Perth Amboy, NJ with my Mom. We sat at the counter enjoying a hot dog, fries & a coke. What a treat that was as a child❣️ Wonderful memories❤️

  25. Denise Avatar
    Denise

    Denise Pickering
    April 1923

    I remember the Woolworth store in Newark, N.J my mother and I would go there almost every Saturday by bus. We would sit down at the counter and have lunch my mother always order a turkey dinner and egg cream soda I don’t remember what I ate. GOOD TIMES!!!👍

    1. Jack R. Weyrick Avatar
      Jack R. Weyrick

      I remember going to Woolworth’s Department Store, in South Bend IN..
      I was 9 years old.
      My Great Aunt Helen Martindale, worked in the “Toy Department”!

    2. Jack R Weyrick Avatar
      Jack R Weyrick

      I remember going to Woolworth’s Department Store, in South Bend, Indiana.
      My Great Aunt Helen Martindale, worked in toy development. I was 9 years old, at the time!
      I remember they had a Dairy Bar, where you could get an ice cream cones or a malt.

  26. Clare Avatar
    Clare

    My husband managed the Woolworth store in downtown Bradenton, FL. I managed the Beall’s store two doors down. Our respective employees insisted we meet, which we did, at the lunch counter. I drank my first diet Coke that day. We married a year later. That was 42 years ago. He is now collecting a Footlocker pension!

  27. Lillie Six Avatar
    Lillie Six

    I worked the lunchcounter at a woolworths in Newark Ohio for ten years. also several other depts..did lot of the baking at the lunch counter. i am now 89 years old.

  28. Leah Avatar
    Leah

    I have a beautiful table lamp that my mom bought at a Woolworth store when I was a baby. I was born in 1959.

  29. Peggy Boyter Avatar
    Peggy Boyter

    I Loved Woolworths going there was fun so much to see. I wish they would bring them back.

  30. Joseph Novak Avatar
    Joseph Novak

    and then there was SS Kresge.

  31. Carolyn Avatar
    Carolyn

    My father was manager of the Woolworth store in Clarksville, TN in the 1940s when I was a baby.

  32. Sandra Buck Avatar
    Sandra Buck

    I worked at Woolworth Maui in the 70s . I met my husband there and 44 years later
    Still together. Thank you Woolworth co for transferring him ( from Orville Calif) to Maui.

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