The local five and dimes
May 29, 2012, noon
By Sandi Cameron
The Woolworth’s buyers were quick to recognize the potential of character products linked to the movies. Mickey Mouse, created by Walt Disney in 1928, appeared on bendy toys by 1929. Shortly after, the motif appeared on sweet wrappers and jigsaw puzzles. Of all the characters in the movies in the 1930s, Snow White was favored. Special window displays were created and in many of the larger branches, a salesgirl became Snow White for the day. Shoppers eagerly bought goods that featured the animated characters that they had seen on the silver screen. Also, sheet music sold included popular numbers from favorite movies. Pianos were common in homes and families often had sing-alongs after visiting the cinema.
In its early years, Woolworth’s rarely advertised. Occasionally handbills were produced to support a store opening and there were rare press advertisements to support big product launches like gold rings, Woolco Cotton and Lorraine Hairnets. But that was the limit. F. W. Woolworth believed that nice window displays were sufficient advertising.
After a period of wage dispute in the 1930s, the managers gave in to workers’ demands, but cut the work force and changed the design of the store to allow customers to have more self-help opportunities to cut overhead costs.
Most people made trips to the five and dime for birthday, shower and Christmas gifts. During World War II, Woolworths’ richly illustrated magazine carried the theme “Let Christmas be merry and bright…for all.” It suggested ways to brighten one’s home with candles and decorations from the five and ten. By 1940, a number of items had reached $1, a price significantly higher than the original nickel or dime.
Along with the expected merchandise at Grand Junction’s Woolworth’s, a lunch counter was available. The corporation originally incorporated lunch counters because of the success of the counters in the first British store in Liverpool. In 1929, Woolworth’s announced that it had served 90 million lunches that year alone.
The dining section in Grand Junction also contained a number of booths where patrons could order banana splits or malted milks for 25 cents, sandwiches for 50 cents, pie for 15 cents a slice, or large Coca-Colas for 10 cents. Waitresses could earn $28 for a 40-hour week, plus tips. This Woolworth’s had a well-guarded back door in an effort to restrict petty thieves. With a strip of four pictures for a quarter, the photo booth was of great interest to young couples and close friends. The various departments enticed all ages, including the sections for ‘45 records, make-up, fabric, tools, candy and toys. It was a perfect location for a child to spend his or her weekly allowance (along with the local theater, of course).
Woolworth’s had become the largest department store chain in the world by 1979, its 100th anniversary, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. F. W. Woolworth paid $13.5 million in 1913 to build the world’s tallest building, 57 stories high, in New York City. The steel-framed Symes Building in Denver, at 16th Street and Champa, was built in 1906 and until the 1970s, was home to one of the largest Woolworth’s stores in the world.
All in all, the five and dimes were popular with all members of the family and an easy stop on Main Street America, missed now by many who fondly remember the ice-cold malted milk and baked ham and cheese three-decker sandwich, savored while shopping with a friend. Is there room for that 15-cent slice of apple pie?
The dime store bargains weren’t hay, but as Yogi Berra so aptly quoted, “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.”
With appreciation for research material to the online Woolworth’s Museum, Museum of the West, and Karen Plunkett-Powell.