Frank Winfield Woolworth opened his second retail store one hundred and twenty one years ago today. He had opened his first store the year before, but it failed in just a few months. A 19th century capitalist to the core, Woolworth was undaunted – he left New York and moved to Lancaster PA to try again and the rest is dime story history.
He was the Sam Walton of his time – soon he had a thousand stores and by 1913 he was rich enough to build his own New York skyscraper. The Woolworth building cost almost $14 million dollars and he paid cash. Yes, cash.
From 1913 until 1930, when the Chrysler building opened, the Woolworth tower was the tallest building in the world at just under eight hundred feet.
During the Depression you could get a turkey dinner at the dime store for fifteen cents and (below) it was a great place to do your Christmas shopping. Shoppers then looked just as grim as shoppers now.
Woolworth’s went out of business in 1992 – mostly due to the real Sam Walton – and may only be remembered for the historic lunch counter sit-in of 1960 in Greensboro, North Carolina. A section of that counter is now in the Smithsonian.
It seems odd to think of growing up without a chance to buy ten cents worth of candy or fake fingernails or a goldfish in a cardboard container after school. Oh, and tinsel – every Christmas it came from the dime store. Life is much more complicated since the last dime store in the neighborhood closed.