June 21, 2010

On a dime

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:14 am
Tags: , ,

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.

(Woolworth Building photo by Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress PPD).

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.

Christmas shopping at Woolworths. Photo by John Collier, 1941, Library of Congress PPD

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.

Today is the twenty-seventh birthday of the heir to the British throne.  Curious to have a job – the only one you’re allowed to have – but not know when it starts. Happy birthday, Will.



  1. There is still one lonely Ben Franklin store, nearby in Belmont. It’s about the only place I’ve found to buy notions (zippers, needles and thread, etc.).


    Comment by Barry Goldstein — June 22, 2010 @ 7:47 am | Reply

  2. I miss them old dime stores, but love your stories,


    Comment by avery zia — June 24, 2010 @ 8:46 pm | Reply

  3. Just read blog thinking it was today 6-21-11 and apon reading my own comment I realized it was from last year. Still a fab blog.


    Comment by avery — June 21, 2011 @ 11:58 am | Reply

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