Come Back to the Five-and-Dime …
Hard to believe, but on February 22, 1879, an enterprising merchant named Frank Woolworth opened his first namesake “five-and-dime” store amid the wintry streets of Utica, NY, having no clue that his brainchild would, by 1979, form the largest chain of mercantiles on the planet.
Vending everything from roasted peanuts to tchotchkes to saltwater taffy to dry goods, Woolworth was about as emblematic an institution as America ever boasted. Perhaps most famous for its ubiquitous lunch counter service, where one could nosh on crunchy breakfast hash-browns or the most grizzled and greasy of noontime burgers, Woolworth stood head and shoulders above all other chains for nearly one hundred years.
Of course, just as soon as Woolworth had reached its apex in terms of ubiquity, along came the K Marts and Wal-Marts of the world, not to mention the come-hither burger seductions of McDonalds, enticing die-hard customers away from Woolworth’s bountiful bins like so many famished bottle-flies migrating from one moldering carcass to a freshly splayed cadaver. Oh, Ronald, you garish minx! The doom of Woolworth was sealed in short-shrift and, by the late 1980s, the legendary chain had become largely … legendary.
In the Aughts, the entire company changed its name and its corporate emphasis to Foot Locker. What a come-down. (Well, feet are typically found on the floor.)
Whether or not Woolworth might have retained some of its luster and adapted to the changing times to give proliferating horror-spawn like Family Dollar Stores an eventual run for their money is a mystery never to be solved. It certainly didn’t help that the once-indefatigable concern’s most infamous heiress, Barbara Hutton, allegedly blew through men, hooch, and money like an elephant through the store’s Peanut Packing section. That sad little gal knew how to party.
Otherwise, Happy Birthday, Woolworth’s-cum-Foot Locker! You surely put thousands of everyday Mom-and-Pop shops out of business at the height of your glory, but you were only showing the world how behemoths are supposed to “behemoth” and, in the long run, you weren’t a patch on the Walton Family and their endeavors. Besides, there’s something to be said for the look of the classic American Main Street long-defunct, and what could look more “Main Street” than the old Woolworth sign amid the hustle and bustle of yore?
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