FW WoolworthsIt’s where Mom took you to shop for bargains, and movie stars got discovered sitting on a stool at the soda fountain, making today


On February 22, 1879, Frank Winfield Woolworth opened his first store, “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York.

The store wasn’t as great as advertised and soon failed, so Frank Woolworth brought in his brother Charles Sumner “Sum” Woolworth and relocated to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where they opened their first successful store.

Together the Woolworth brothers built The F.W. Woolworth Company into one of the largest and most successful chains of retail stores ever, unique and comfortable places to shop for all manner of dry goods and household items, or to stop in for a decent inexpensive meal at one of the famous Woolworth lunch counters.

The same people worked in these stores for years and years; familiar, friendly and knowledgeable, and just a little bit weird. The name “Woolworth’s” became synonymous with Five & Dime stores, a lost chapter of retail Americana.

The Woolworth brothers were so successful they built the world’s tallest building in 1913 as their headquarters (the landmark Woolworth Building, still one of New York City’s defining skyscrapers) as they expanded to over 5,000 stores nationwide and internationally.

Woolworth’s was as much a tradition as a business, and like a lot of traditions, faded away in 1997 as bigger, cheaper box stores came into vogue, those cold and impersonal slabs of stucco stuffed with shoddy products, dull as dust.

These days the only Woolworths still in business are in foreign countries, and nobody’s discovering beautiful starlets at Walmart food courts.

•Suggested Activities: Sharing a malted with 2 straws, putting a quarter in the Photo Booth for four black & whites of you and your honey.

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