Toggle menu
973-585-7671 (New Jersey)

Happy Birthday to the Dime Store

Posted by Judy on Feb 23rd 2022

THE DIME STORE On February 22, 1879, F. W. Woolworth opened his first store in Utica, NY. That store failed, but his second store in Lancaster, PA, succeeded. His five-and-ten-cent store copied the department store concept of a wide variety of merchandise, but lowered the prices for housewares, toys, sewing notions, china, glassware, stationery, candy and toiletries. Woolworth's remained a dime store until 1932, when the top price was raised to 20 cents.

Other dime store chains included Kresge (later to become K-Mart), J.G. McCrory and McClellan and Ben Franklin (where Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart got his start). Not only did the stores offer low prices, they allowed shoppers to select their own merchandise, rather than having a clerk behind a counter pick the goods. Woolworth's critics included people who were dismayed by "the chain store menace" of the 1930s. They complained that he was creating a monopoly, going so far as to introduce legislation that would have broken the company up.

During the first half of the twentieth century, the dime store was a central part of virtually every main street in America. My own small town had a Woolworth's, complete with screeching parakeets, tanks of goldfish, huge candy counters, endless knick-knacks and Evening in Paris perfume. It was the first stop for lots of everyday stuff.

Before fast food, the dime store lunch counter was a popular place for an inexpensive meal, making Woolworth the largest seller of restaurant food in the country. Its lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, became famous in 1960 as the site of the first civil-rights sit-in to demand service. A portion of that counter is in the Smithsonian Museum.

As the malls and discount stores grew, and the downtown shopping districts faded, the fortunes of the dime store declined. Woolworth closed its last North American store in 1998. In its place, for now, are the dollar stores and the big box retailers.