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Memories of the Five and Dime Stores

Updated on February 18, 2019
Virginia Allain profile image

I'm carrying on my mother's research into our family history. I've self-published some family memoirs & learned a lot about different eras.

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Finding Cowboys and Indians at Woolworth's

I remember venturing into the dime store with my life savings clutched in my small fist. The lure was a bin of plastic cowboys and Indians.

Sorting through the crudely made figures in garish colors, I debated over the blue cowboy that could ride a horse or the kneeling cowboy with a six gun in his extended hand. No, maybe an Indian would be better. I found a brave with a feather in his braided hair and a quiver of arrows on his back. Perfect.

Those were the days when Woolworths and other "five and dime" stores existed in every town. Pre-WalMart, the dime stores stocked a wide range of merchandise back in the 1950s and 1960s.


A Steady Viewing of Western Movies and Television Shows Fueled Our Play

After watching Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Wagon Train, and similar shows, we had plenty of ideas for play time in our sandbox. We posed the cowboys and Indians to replicate the shows that filled our heads.

Our sandbox was quite long and narrow so we knelt outside it and leaned in to set up our western scenes. We created roads and hills in the sand and used twigs to make stockades and fences.

Three or four of us could play in parallel fashion or have our characters interact. It kept us occupied for hours with our plastic figures from the dime store.

Sample of a Vintage Western Movie

You Can Still Buy Plastic Western Figures

12-pc Cowboy and Indian Toy Figures
12-pc Cowboy and Indian Toy Figures

Wow, a whole set to start you off. Four cowboys and four Indians in traditional combat positions. Notice they are all in some sort of combat position. We had some that were bow-legged to place on the plastic horses.

 

Hollywood Stereotypes of Native Americans

I'm Not Surprised That People Collect the Dimestore Figures

American Dimestore Toy Soldiers and Figures (Schiffer Book for Collectors)
American Dimestore Toy Soldiers and Figures (Schiffer Book for Collectors)

If you still own some from your childhood, you can consult this guide for what is collectible.

 

Memories by Erin Mellor

I loved those little guys, we used to build canyons for them in the sand pit, so they had cover for shoot outs, but the Indians knew the territory better so when the hosepipe flood came, they were on higher ground, evening up the odds. Thanks for bringing back the memory. (check out her web pages)

Did You Play with Dime Store Figures

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Another Friend Shared Their Memories of Woolworths

My biggest memory of shopping Woolworths in the 50's was when my sister and I decided that we could each spend a whole $1 each on candy. I got all chocolate stars and my sister got all hot air...the clerk asked if it was okay with our Mom and we both nodded "yes". Mom was in the store and had told us we could spend our allowance but wasn't so pleased it was on candy...lots of candy in those days that got put way up high out of our reach. My other memory was of the sweet little lady who took care of the birds and fish....she later became Tammy Baker. Yup, we had cowboys and Indians too! Thanks for the memories, seems we have many of the same ones! :)

Of Course, You Could Buy a Lot More Than Plastic Toys at the Dime Store

Depression Era Dime Store: Kitchen, Home & Garden (A Schiffer Book for Collectors)
Depression Era Dime Store: Kitchen, Home & Garden (A Schiffer Book for Collectors)

Although we loved the five-and-dime store for the toys they carried, Mom was looking for measuring cups or other household items she needed.

 
See the inside of this booklet below.
See the inside of this booklet below. | Source

A Little History of Woolworth's

I own a 1929 booklet put out by the F.W. Woolworth Co, the originator of the five and ten cent stores. The store started in 1879, so 1929 was the fiftieth anniversary of the company.

The slim 16-page booklet had a metal loop at the top so you could hang it on a nail in your kitchen. It was a quick reference to all the useful items one could buy at Woolworth's. The front cover said, "NOTHING OVER 10 CENTS."

The pages inside listed all the items by categories. For children, it listed metal toys, toy aeroplanes, toy automobiles, toy trucks, toy autobuses, toy wrist watches, dolls, lithographed tin toys, box paints, Crayons, paint books, children's books, harmonicas, toy tops, rubber balls, celluloid rattles, celluloid dolls, celluloid toys, marbles in season and balloons.

Take a look at the pages of the book in the slide show. (a booklet owned by Virginia Allain)

A Vintage Woolworth's Shopping Guide - From 1929

Click thumbnail to view full-size
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Memories from OhMe

We had 2 Dime Stores in our little town growing up and it was a treat to get to go in one of them especially if we had enough money to buy a new coloring book and crayons. I remember the day that I was able to get the larger box of crayons. I had never had any size but the one that had maybe 8 to 10 crayons in it. We also got our new Keds in the dimestore every summer.

Others Fondly Remember Playing Cowboys and Indians - I'm Not the Only One

Here's further reading for those nostalgic for the plastic cowboys and Indians of the 1940s, 50s, 60s.

BurntChestnut Remembers Snacks from the Five and Dime

I don't know if it was Woolworth's or another five and dime store, but the store had a container where they kept warm nuts and you could buy a small bag of them (similar to buying bags of popcorn). Those nuts were so good!

Some History of Woolworth's Five And Dime Stores

The first F.M. Kirby store opened in Wilkes-Barre in 1884. Fred M. Kirby came from Watertown, NY to open his first 5 & 10 store. In partnership with Charles Sumner Woolworth of Scranton. He was selling: pots, pans, glassware, and the like from his bare crude store to customers for the modest prices of five and ten cents.

The Lancaster store opened with an inventory of $410, and registered opening-day sales of $127.67. It started with the first "Great Five Cent Store" in which five cents was the price ceiling on all merchandise. Mr. Woolworth introduced the practice of openly displaying merchandise on counters, a practice that is carried out today by almost all retail stores. He was the first mass merchandiser to buy directly from the manufacturer. Mr. Woolworth, though selling at low prices, insisted on quality merchandise, and in the early days he personally bought every item that appeared for sale on his counters.

A year later Kirby bought out his partner and began establishing his chain of stores. In 1912, the owner of 96 stores bearing the name of F. M. Kirby Company, he and other pioneer merchants including F. W. Woolworth, who now had over 300 stores merged their businesses to form the F. W. Woolworth Company, an organization which has gone around the world with over 3,300 stores in 11 countries.

Woolworth's history Tue, Mar 25, 1969 – 36 · Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, The Evening News (Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne, Pennsylvania, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

A Social History of Woolworths and Other Five and Dime Stores

F.W. Woolworth and the American Five and Dime: A Social History
F.W. Woolworth and the American Five and Dime: A Social History

For a more in-depth look at the history of Woolworths and the whole five and dime retailing, take a look at this book. It includes social history over the century, such as the lives of average Americans and the role of the dime store.

Other books you can read on the topic include Five and Ten: The Fabulous Life of F.W. Woolworth and Remembering Woolworth's: A Nostalgic History of the World's Most Famous Five-and-Dime.

 

Some History of the Kress Chain of Five And Dime Stores

Samuel H Kress, founder of the Kress Co. nationwide five-and-dime chain store, first entered the retail mercantile business in Nanticoke, Pa., after a period of school teaching. Later he went into the wholesale stationery business in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. From this beginning emerged the Kress chain, which now includes more than 250 stores.

Kress, a descendant of American revolutionary stock, established his first five-and-dime store in Memphis, Tenn., in 1896. Within four years he opened 12 stores in the South.

From the Great Falls Tribune (Great Falls, Montana) 23 Sep 1955, Fri • Page 20

The Courier-Journal  (Louisville, Kentucky) 30 Apr 1922, Sun  • Page 15
The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky) 30 Apr 1922, Sun • Page 15 | Source

Enjoy These Further Memories of Vintage Stores

  • What is a Five and Dime?

    The lunch counter in the local Woolworths used to be a place where you could go and get good food for a good price. But these wonderful little five and dime stores offered so much more.

  • Reminiscing Over Old Discount Stores From The Past

    A trip down memory lane reminiscing over past names like Woolco, Korvette, GEM & many more discounters that opened their doors to ribbon cuttings, cheers & staged events in parking lots throughout North America.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Virginia Allain

Add Your Memories of Shopping at the Dime Store

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    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 

      4 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Woolies (never the full name in England) meant Pick 'n' Mix sweets to me. Mr Bell, the dentist, used to give us sixpence after a treatment and we'd walk up South Road to spend it on Pick 'n' Mix. Well, we didn't know any better then :)

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 

      5 years ago from Diamondhead

      The 5 and dime was one of my favorite stores, when I was a kid, they had a fabric department and I would look at patterns and other project and dream that I would one day own them.

    • PaigSr profile image

      PaigSr 

      5 years ago from State of Confusion

      Yes I too remember a 5&10 store while growing up. It got a lot of my business as it was also the only local toy store.

    • Monika Weise profile image

      Monika Weise 

      5 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

      We used to shop at the Dime store when I was little until a K-mart opened right down the street from our house. After that, we never went and they all shut down.

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