Thursday, August 18, 2011


Another Summer Rerun
Originally posted January, 2010
under the title "5 & Dime Beginnings"

One of my first jobs in high school was as a stock-boy in Woolworths. At $1.40 per hour, I knew that I had made the right choice quitting the $1.10/hour hamburger place. I'm still haunted by this delightful nostalgic dream-world - i can still hear the creaky floors, and smell the intoxicating combination of lunch counter, candy counter, and pet department.

4th and Main, Five and Dime in Watertown, Wisconsin, Fronted by the canonical curved red corner background with gold letters and diamonds. The front of the store had a red and white striped canvas awning, The manager cranked it down in the morning, and I cranked it back up in the evening. But that was just one of my duties....

The F.W. Woolworth 5 and 10 cent store had departments competing with every other store on Main Street. We had hardware, housewares, men's and women's clothing, fabrics, paint, pets, candy, and toys.  The Woolworth's Experience while Evie was cutting your window shades to custom lengths, Esther could tint you a gallon of paint to just the right shade, and Betty could notarize your documents, while you relax at Merla's lunch counter for an incomparable home-cooked meal. Then wander over to Angie's candy counter for a handful of those Brach's maple nut goodies that look like mushroom caps. Get the latest Simplicity patterns in Lorraine's department up in front, and then go to Gertie's department to get the fabric to implement the pattern. There were greeting cards, phonograph records, books, parakeets, cacti - simply everything you'll ever need was right there.

But I was a dweller in Woolworth's underside. The entire basement was a dark maze of rough wood shelving, arranged in the same layout as the upstairs, with many mysterious side passages. Items entered the Woolworths System through a door which opened up in the sidewalk. Cartons slid down a metal chute into the basement. If the cartons jammed up on the way down, Roger the Baptist was sure to mention it to me as soon as I arrived. Roger never wanted to get dirty. He would check the merchandise in, and stock it on the shelves in the basement. The ladies picked their restock orders off of these shelves, and laid them in the aisle in cardboard trays called "X-90 boxes" (i hope i don't get in trouble for revealing these infrastructure secrets). I brought the X-90 boxes up the creaky wooden stairs, each to its proper department, and the ladies would price and restock the items. Nearly everything upstairs had its counterpart downstairs in backup stock. One thing you never heard at Woolworth's : "If you don't see any there, we don't have any."

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

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