While doing research for a story the other day, I came across a reference to Woolworth’s , and it made me remember how much fun my I had in that store as a kid. It was one of the original five-and-dime stores, known for highly discounted products, and later, its lunch counter, where milkshakes, malts and food were served. And a counter at a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, N.C. became a focal point in the fight against desegregation in 1960, when four African-American students sat down at the store’s counter and were refused service, leading to six months of sit-ins and further expansion of the civil rights movement.
My memories of Woolworth’s are less controversial, but still poignant. We’d frequent the one in Willowbrook Mall in Wayne or the location with counter service in Bloomfield Center. I remember the fun my brother and I had when we were let loose in the toys department, spending what felt like hours in the aisles, gawking at the My Little Pony dolls and G.I. Joe action figures. My grandmother was almost always with us, and we could cajole her into buying us a little something if we were good. When we got thirsty, we might get a soda or a milkshake from the lunch counter.
Woolworth’s also became the go-to place for bookbags for school. While all of my classmates were on the Jansport kick, we’d go with one of the much-cheaper versions from the store. The array was vast, and the lower-priced backpacks seemed to have more bells and whistles, too. The more zippered pockets, the better, I thought.
I remember my last backpack from there costing $15 — I bought it myself right before senior year. And I still have the last two I purchased, using them for trips and pool parties. Not to date myself, but I think the nearly 15 years of use I’ve gotten out of them was well worth the $15 price tag!
Woolworth’s had a lot of sewing notions, too. Spools of thread, patterns, needles — whatever you needed, they had it for a resonable price.
Sure, there were other five-and-dime stores out there — Kresge’s was popular, and there were also McCrory’s and J.J. Newberry’s locations around New Jersey. But Woolworth’s will always stand out in my mind as a happy memory of a discount store with personality.