Now, I'm not old enough (yet!) to sit around a tell a million stories about how I remember things from "The Old Days," even though my kids do get a kick out of it when I explain to them that, when I was a kid, we didn't have: cable, ipods, computers, DVDs, etc. However, one place I do remember going to at least a few times as a kid was Woolworth's. In Utica, Woolworth's was located downtown on Genessee Street, just north of Bleecker Street. I don't recall too much about the store, except that the shelves were loaded with all sorts of merchandise, and there was the lunch counter with the round seats that seem to attract kids like magnets attract metal.
Anyhow, I hadn't given Woolworth's much thought, as the chain's official demise was in 1997, but had been declining for some time prior to that. As a teen-ager and into my 20s, one store was just as good as the next. However, I do recall my grandmother telling me some stories about Woolworth's from when she was a child, and I thought I might have remembered her saying something about the first Woolworth's actually being the one that was located in Utica. So, I did some research, and I found out a whole lot more about Woolworth's, its founder (Frank Winfield Woolworth), and its history than I ever thought I would, and it's fascinating stuff!
F.W. Woolworth got his start in business in Watertown, N.Y., in 1873. He started at a dry goods store, striving for a career in business after growing up on a farm. His skills as a salesman did not impress, but his honesty and earnestness kept him employed at Augsbury and Moore. While he didn't sell well, he apparently had a knack for designing window displays, and in 1878, he had epiphany when, put in charge of getting rid of some surplus items, he created a "Everything on this table-5 cents!" sensation. He decided to try his luck opening his own store.
Heading south from Watertown, F.W. Woolworth decided to make his first attempt at discount retail in Utica, N.Y. His risked just about all of his money, leased a small shop, and opened "The Great Five Cent Store." The store opened in February of 1879, and did well for approximately six months. However, it eventually went out of business. F.W. Woolworth learned much from his initial attempt, though, and tried another store, with a better idea (a variety of products, with different prices) that met with more success in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
F.W. Woolworth's, Utica N.Y.
The empire was born. F.W. Woolworth lived a true rags-to-riches story simply by selling products at reasonable prices so that the average person could by them, a lesson he had learned long ago as a farm boy who was often chased out of stores because his family didn't have much money. F.W. Woolworth returned to Utica in 1888, and became a fixture of the downtown area for a century. The demise of the Woolworth's empire is another tale (although there are apparently still some around overseas), one that is quite an interesting read in the book Remembering Woolworth's, by Karen Plunkett-Powell (link to the right). Below, here is where Woolworth's used to be located in Utica, and what it looks like today.