Looking back to my childhood in Newark,
one of the most favorite of my memories recalls the occasional trips
to the five and dimes, better known in those days as the "five
and ten cent stores." I cannot hardly ever recall mother calling
these stores by their trademarked names, be it F. W. Woolworth,
Mc Crory, W. T. Grant, or H. L. Green. In today's parlance, in the
southern regions of these United States, stores of this type were
colloquially called "WoolSworth", adding a middle "S",
as opposed to the name Northerners most associated with stores of
Whatever the name, as a child, for me, only a trip to Olympic Park
could cause more excitement, than an anticipated trip to the downtown
Woolworth's, or further down Broad Street, to its slightly smaller
and lesser known "sister," Mc Crory's. A trip to the five
and dime on a Saturday afternoon, forecast the highlight of great
adventure venturing into the world of every necessity known to man,
and especially entry into a child's vision of paradise on earth.
The Broad Street Woolworth store location stood out as the jewel-
in- the- crown of all the lesser neighborhood five and dimes, which
were undoubtedly much smaller in square footage than the main branch
store. All other five and dimes, such as H. L. Green and others,
paled in comparison to the Woolworth chain. Accordingly, the neighborhood
five and dimes were not held in the same esteem, and definitely
not revered for the diversity of stock, as the vast central emporium
offered. The Broad Street store contained virtually hundreds of
items to awe, inspire and definitely entice a child to become lost
in its wonders and variety. One only went to the more local shops
when one was rushed, or needed items in a "pinch", and
could not spare the time of a bus ride to Broad Street. In our family's
case, this meant the much smaller Woolworth, which was located on
Clinton Avenue, in the Clinton Hill Section, within walking distance
from our home on Belmont Avenue, or on more "affordable"
days, a short bus ride away.
Saturdays were the "all out" occasion to shop downtown
Newark. The highlight of this trip for me would be a visit to the
food service or "lunch" counter at Woolworth. The Saturday
"special" was always my favorite. Served on a pale green
glass platter, with separate partitions, the featured special of
the day would be a triple decker toasted white bread, ("Club")
ham salad and egg salad sandwich. In the middle circular partition
of the same serving platter, would be a generous dollop of potato
salad. For 25 cents, a banana split or a "Tulip" (the
flower-like shaped glass ice cream dish), sundae might follow. M-m-m-m,
what a yummy treat for an eager child or hungry adult!!
To this very day, the memory of the delicious taste of that club
sandwich remains . I have never quite yet savored the deliciously
fresh taste and quality of that potato salad since those childhood
days. I wonder still until today how it was made so very tasty back
then? The completed toasted sandwich, sliced into equal quarters,
would be placed in the individual serving partitions of the platter,
centrally crowned by the potato salad with watercress garnish for
eye appeal. All this preparation and presentation would make this
sandwich most appealing to the hungry palate and visual appeal of
the shopping public. Although being one of the more "expensive"
items on the menu, at $1.25 the platter (!),the sandwich would become
a deliciously abundant and wholesome bargain meal, to be shared
by mother and myself. Along with the sandwich, mother would "splurge"
by the purchase of a "large" soda, usually Coca-Cola,
served in the familiar trademark wide mouthed Coke glass, requesting
straws for two,with the almost overflowing beverage costing a mere
ten cents ! As of that day , iced tea was not as yet a popular beverage
available at the Woolworth lunch counter. Later in the era, in lieu
of the drinking glass, a permanent aluminum base would hold a disposable
paper cup, (taken from a conveniently placed and inverted stack
of like paper beverage cups), which purpose was to hold the beverage
of choice, cutting down the time and cost of washing individual
serving glasses. After customer use, the waitress would simply discard
the allegedly more "sanitary"(?) paper drink container,stacking
the metal holder back on the serving shelf ,( usually without washing
this outer base), to stand ready to be served to the next customer.
So much for sanitation!!
It was fun to sit at the red vinyl covered seats of the Woolworth
"lunch" counter, featuring swivel chairs. Almost immediately,
I would begin to amuse myself and " revolve," round and
round, with mother firmly and just as quickly reprimanding me to
STOP! I recall the abutting chairs where other customers sat closely
together, with a front undercounter ledge or "step", which
would enable my short little legs to climb upon the seat. At the
time, in consideration of my smallness, it sometimes felt as if
I were scaling Mt. Everest! I would watch the waitresses in their
familiar and perky green uniforms, with pinned handkerchief "corsages",wearing
hairnets and little tiara-like checkered hats. Constantly bustling
about, taking orders, and first scooping uniform sized and shaped
ice cubes into glasses ,the serving girls and women would fill the
drink orders of the many customers, before bringing out the food
selection of choice. Behind the counter were the familiar box-like
soda dispensers, with their brand names prominently displayed on
the front and sides of the dispenser box. Coca-Cola would be served
from a red dispenser, with the distinctive Coca Cola trademark script
written on its sides. Hires Root Beer would be served from an orange
dispenser box with a Hire's trademark black phonograph record depicted
on its front and sides, (think 78 R.P.M., for this was the era before
the popularity of the 45 smaller vinyl, large hole-in-the-middle
records). Most fascinating were the fountain-like beverage machines,
which magically recirculated either the orangeade, lemonade or tropical
punch beverages, available in lieu of the more popular branded drinks.
Needless to say, I sat in rapt attention and fascination by all
these exciting sights., in hunger and anticipation of my piece -de-resistance
club sandwich, shortly to be delivered into my tummy.
The advent and rapid popularity of the sale of much loved pizza
pie, then called "tomato pie", hit the Woolworth store
like an asteroid from space, beginning in the mid-1950's. Never
before was pizza sold commercially outside of the traditional neighborhood
Italian pizza shop! Offered at 15 cents a slice, welcoming the customers
to make a purchase, the alluring aroma of garlic, cheese, slightly
burned crust, and fragrant tomato sauce at the pizza stand, accompanied
by a musical strain of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and verbal
"spiel" touting the pizza, would play over and over, attracting
the patrons in droves. I never could figure out why that patriotic
song would be associated with the sale of pizza: however, it seemed
the signal for mobs of people to stand in line to make that single
delicious purchase, which always beckoned the purchase of yet an
additional second slice or two of pie. To this day, whenever I hear
"Yankee Doodle Dandy", it hastens my thoughts back to
the pizza counter at Woolworth's on Broad Street.
After sating the appetite, it was then forward with the serious
business of shopping. Arrayed on wooden oak counters, featuring
glass partitions and little metal price indicators, merchandise
offering a world of wonder and desire, drawing near even the most
disinterested children, for closer inspection. From cosmetics to
coloring books it was all there. Anything one's fancy could conjure
could be reasonably had. Of course, the toy counter would hold the
most allure, later to be followed by the Pet Department. In that
basement level, I was introduced to my first beloved pet, my little
blue parakeet, Butchie Boy. His sweet, melodious ,cheerful and slight
raspy voice daily greeting me with a chirping"good morning",
was the inspiration of my love for birds today. Now so many years
later, I still cherish the memory of that tiny bird..... And then
there was the bulk candy counter. Between the attraction of the
toys and pets and candy, mother had a difficult time, undoubtedly
so,attempting to extract me from the endless and enticing varieties
of merchandise, which kept my interest and attention totally rapt
The Mc Crory's five and ten cent store near Kresge's Department
Store, (Kresge's, the forerunner of the contemporary K-Mart), was
the locale for the purchase of a first Lionel train set, given to
me as a Christmas/Hanukkah gift. I recall this little all metal
and realistic looking train set, with its metal interconnecting
tracks and bridges, and actual "smoking" locomotive smokestack,
became a prized possession of mine for a number of years. Purchased
by my father for me, prior to his devastating illness and paralysis,
it was especially cherished and dear to me after his death. Rounding
the bend of our parlor radiator, which stood covered by a wooden
radiator cover, a few inches distant from the window, the little
train chugged along, amusing and fascinating me each time that it
ran. I wish I still had that very set, for currently on the collector's
market, this formerly very inexpensive Lionel train ,set merits
a very hefty price, and is a highly sought after item by toy train
The Mc Crory five and dime also had a large and centrally located
first floor level candy counter, the tops of which were always decorated
with seasonally appropriate holiday candy displays. Of special memory
to me, are the Halloween paper mache pumpkins filled with all variety
of candy, black cat metal noisemakers holding a plastic type tube
filled with multicolored sugar sprinkles or chocolate candy. At
Christmastime, rows of smiling Santa Clauses seemed to reach out,
Christmas candies in plastic red and green wrap, with curling ribbon
topped ties. Mother could never pass this counter without buying
me a lollypop or some other small treat, avoiding the more costlier
and more sugar-laden offerings.
The Woolworth chain, in a sense, became an ongoing passage in one's
life cycle. Hair ribbons to adorn little girls' sausage curls so
popular in the day, were sold by the yard, in all colors, plaids
and widths. The luster and allure of satin and silky ribbons on
spools, usually held and draped on a lengthy pole, catered to the
customers desire of length and style. A yardstick, mounted on the
countertop, was handy for the cutting convenience of the sales'
clerk, to meet the customer's demand. Usually, new hair ribbons
signified a special occasion or holiday, heralding an exciting "dress
up" day for little girls. This is how it was for me! A popular
song of that era was "Scarlet Ribbons", by Harry Belafonte,
telling a tale of a little girl and her love of scarlet hair ribbons,
so popular at that time.
Later,in the growing teen years of young women, the Woolworth cosmetics
counter became the focal point for checking out the latest in lipstick
, foundation, and eye makeup colors. In particular, I recall the
"Cleopatra" look in eye makeup, inspired by the Elizabeth
Taylor Egyptian movie extravaganza of the late 1950's. Old Newark
devotees will recall such brand names as Hazel Bishop, Pond's Angel
Face Foundation, Westmore, Max Factor and so forth,all available
at the dime store. Crowds of high school age girls would crowd around
the cosmetic counters appraising the various shades of (especially
blue) Maybelline eye shadow, or seek the then popular shade of a
tube of pink or pink-orange lipstick. Especially popular, following
the Elvis Presley era, Elvis lipstick in "Hound Dog Orange"
and "Tutti Frutti Pink" were one of the best sellers offered
as Woolworth merchandise. The hair notions counter was also a popular
place to congregate, since the popularity of "pin curls"
required the purchase of bobby pins, the later hair "rollers"(invented
by Conair), were not as yet developed or in use.
Woolworth seemed to be up on all fashion trends and fads. As silly
as it seems now, Woolworth sold what was then called a "Wig
Hat." A salesgirl would demonstrate to an eager crowd of women,
a type of hat, which when combed, would appear as a wig hairstyle!
The wig hat came in blond and brunette shades. Earlier, when the
Disney Davy Crockett fad was raging in the mid fifties, Woolworth
sold Davy Crockett raccoon tailed hats. I recall that I wore mine
wherever I went, and mother laughingly humored me for the duration
of the fad. And the sale of Elvis Presley merchandise, (hats, scarves,
etc.,) brought swift sales and great profit to the Woolworth chain
stores and coffers, while meeting the demands of the most devoted
Woolworth was the place to purchase school supplies for the new
school year. Loose leaf notebooks, pencil cases, briefcases, and
especially metal lunch boxes with Thermos bottles, were high on
the list of needed items. Again, today, those Howdy Dowdy, Hop Cassidy
or Gene Autry lunch boxes, are worth a minor fortune on the antiques
market! Book report due based on a "classic?" Many students'
necks (and behinds) were saved by the purchase of an abridged "Cliff"
summary of the required reading classic. It was often heard that
students did not do the required assignment, or procrastinated and
then faced the due date of a book report with much trepidation.
The convenience of the Woolworth paperback book and coloring book
rack saved the day for many students of that era, myself included!
For mothers, a favorite gathering place in Woolworth might be the
Mc Call's dress pattern department. Surrounded by multitudinous,
weighty and thick books of sewing patterns and all types of sewing
and yarn notions, mothers stood facing tall blond wooded display
furniture, examining voluminous page of styles; which catered to
every sewing occasion known to womankind. Those who delighted in
and were talented at craft work, found the Notions Department a
wonderful haven for a lazy afternoon, maybe even while the kids
were at school.
With the passage of time, and the advent of many competitors gaining
popularity, the Woolworth chain met its final and unfortunate ending,
as did all those exciting times of our childhood in Newark. Despite
several attempts to reorganize in bankruptcy, the Woolworth chain
of five and dime stores could not survive. Price competition and
the ability to hold to its appeal offering "five and ten cent"
items, or merchandise costing not much more, became unrealistic
in the days of burgeoning inflation and the beginnings of gasoline"shortages"
and the higher prices of the 1970's. All these factors hastened
the demise of that long lived and amazing Woolworth chain of stores.
A victim of "modern times", a wonderful era had finally
come to its close.
Wall Mart, anyone?