Let’s go shopping

OilCityDowntown1960

Like many of my posts, this one started off in one simple direction and wound up with a profound memory.

In the ‘50s and 60’s we didn’t go to the mall. We didn’t even know what a mall was. Most stores were mom and pop operations, and they weren’t large. There were catalogue stores, like J.C. Penny and Sears, with local storefronts in smaller towns, and there were department stores, also known as “five and dime” stores, throughout the country.

Depending on where you grew up, there were regional stores that didn’t have national reach. My formative years were in the northeast, specifically, Pennsylvania, and that’s where my familiarity lies. Our department stores were J.J. Newberry’s, F.W. Woolworth’s, and W.T. Grant’s. And yes … there was also E.J. Korvette’s.

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W.T. Grant opened his twenty-five cent store in Lynn, MA in 1906. By 1972, when “W.T.” died, his chain of stores had grown to over 1,200. Shortly after, in 1976, as a result of extending credit to customers with no related investigation to determine whether that customer could actually pay for purchases, the company became infamous as the then-second largest bankruptcy in U.S. history.

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J.J. Newberry’s started in East Stroudsburg, PA in 1911. By 1918, there were seven stores in the chain and seventeen stores by 1919. When “J.J.” died in 1954, there were 475 stores, and by 1961, 565 sported the recognizable gold letters on a red background. The chain was eventually purchased by McCrory stores that ultimately entered into bankruptcy. The last Newberry store closed in 2001.

ejkorvette springfield pa 1958 pleasantfamilyshopping

I’m going to move out of sequence for a moment to speak about E.J. Korvettes. Founded in 1948 in New York City, it was the first store to challenge the “suggested retail pricing” commonly in practice. By so doing, Korvettes displaced the earlier “five and dime” stores and preceded discount stores and warehouse clubs. Korvettes was a “membership store” and it was quite easy to become a “member.” The membership concept legally skirted fair-trade laws. There were a lot of competitor lawsuits, and while they did not cause Korvettes’ demise, the company went bankrupt in 1980.

woolworth WoolworthsFrontSt01_SM woolworth checkouts 1955 pleasantfamilyshopping

And then there was F.W. Woolworth’s. It was started in Utica, NY in 1878 as “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store.” That store failed, but a second identical store opened a year later in Lancaster, PA. It became an international company and grew to be one of the largest retail chains in the world before going out of business in 1997.

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Woolworth’s eventually incorporated lunch counters into their stores.

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One of those lunch counters became quite infamous, and that’s where the profound portion of this post is. It was the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC where on February 1, 1960, four students from all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College walked in with the intention of ordering lunch. The students stayed until closing and came back the next day with fifteen other students. On day three, there were 300 and then 1,000. The Greensboro Woolworth sit-in was not the first in the Civil Rights Movement, but it did play a significant part of similar actions that spread across the country. That Woolworth store is now the location of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

Here are some other department stores you might recognize.

wynnewood Zayre Store at 13501 S. Dixie Highway, Miami, Dade County, FL gimbelsad1934-e1291771806148 1e9e390e0b34b33e3c2adc316c624fd2 381f97fa6459863400ec99c60064c895 image012 giantstore-crth

8 thoughts on “Let’s go shopping

  1. Wow Fred

    Your blog just gets better and better. I was very impressed by your Filling (gas) Station post the other day but this one takes it to another level through the introduction of the social context you have used.

    I have always wanted to visit America and in my mind the imagery you have used is what America should look like. I suppose it has all changed now like here in England.

    You never know I may yet get to ride down Route 66.

    Once ain thanks and keep the Posts coming.

    #blogging 101

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    • Hi John … I appreciate reading your comments and your blog as well. I’m not sure if I’m learning anything from blogging 101, but I’m meeting some interesting blokes. My wife’s family hailed from Wales, and she wants to go there, perhaps next year. Take care.

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      • I have learned that there are some great blogs around. I had never used reader before so it’s been helpful and always say you always learn something from a course even if it’s only to reinforce you are doing things right!

        Have a great week.

        John

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  2. The clerks in these stores were our neighbors, our friends and our relatives. In our small town we had a J.J.Newberry’s ( great food counter ), a W. T. Grants, and a Woolworth’s. Those stores along with a couple Men’s stores, a couple Woman’s store, a grocery store and a pharmacy allowed us to get everything we needed without ever leaving town.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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  3. Grants—Newberrys—My favorites–lunch counters with hot dogs, fries and coke— high stools with red slippery seats— the smell of fried onions permeating—clothing, toys, hats, jewelry, cards—we would wonder around the store for hours before choosing just the right thing—and—if we had time and money left over—back to the lunch counter for, maybe this time—a CMP with a cherry on top.

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