the wooden rocking horse in the local Woolworth Five & Dime on Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens, NY.

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    Lovingly called the "dime store" or the "five and ten", these landmarks existed between 1879 and 1998. It was store names like F.W. Woolworth, J.J. Newberry, S.S. Kresge, Samuel H. Kress, W.T. Grant and J.G. McCrory that offered affordable costume jewelry and accessories to all. These dry goods stores eventually became chain stores but it was Woolworth, the pioneer in the "5 & 10" that graced every Main Street in every town in America throughout the 20th century. The old fashioned dime store was the neighborhood variety shop that sold household items, candy, toys, glassware, Christmas ornaments, Easter baskets, costume jewelry and much more. There was even at the entrance of every store a green photo booth that produced four small wallet size photos for a measly quarter. A stop at the lunch counter became a common meeting place for an inexpensive meal and the store was an absolutely fun place to be. By buying in bulk initially, large quantities of items could be sold individually very cheaply, in fact at rock bottom prices. Numerous dry goods retailed in these stores, but it was the counters full of jewels that were so fashionable, so colorful and oh so reasonably priced. For a few cents, one could match a colorful outfit in your closet with a bauble and be very happy and satisfied wearing a faux parure. As the number of stores grew, the styles of designed jewelry changed along with the prices. Through the ages the jewelry evolved visually and comparably to match the real expensive versions of the jewels of the day. Before the Woolworth store, all shopping had to be bartered. It was here that the fixed price was attached to everything in an entire variety store. What a grand idea and all for a nickel in 1879. After the 1930s, slightly more expensive merchandise was added to the stores, but people continued to call them dime stores. Woolworth's was the original chain store with 1,081 stores open at the time of the death of its founder, Frank Winfield, in 1919 at age 66. He opened his first "5 cent store" in Utica, NY in 1879 and his fourth store in Scranton, Penn., in 1880 was the first "5 & 10 cent store." After a merger with family and friends in 1911 the F.W. Woolworth Company was incorporated and later operated stores in all forty-eight states. W oolworth eventually expanded into England, Germany, Canada and South America. By the 1970s, sadly, the ideal shopping store was losing favor and by 1998 the last 400 Woolworth's closed in North America. So what did they sell? In the stores were bejeweled trinkets that sparkled and resembled diamonds and pearls. Of course, they were imitations. However, the novelty pins that sold around the Christmas season never lost their popularity even to this day. There were whimsical jewelry items of all types from poodles to pineapples and cats to crowns. Rhinestones both clear and multi-colored were a huge attraction. Christmas trees pins during the holiday season were favored whether hallmarked or not. When it came to necklaces and earrings, the name Japan appeared on many necklace hook closures and earring clips. Offered was an abundance of sherbet and muted colored multi-strand plastic pearl necklace and earring sets. All assortments of bead sizes and string lengths that were imaginable were available. As a self-made man, Woolworth made millions of dollars a nickel and a dime at a time. His namesake Woolworth building was erected in New York City in 1913. At 729 feet it was considered the tallest building at that time. Woolworth paid for it in cash as only his grand daughter Barbara Hutton of the high society pages could relate. There were other "five and dimes" that offered the same merchandise, but not to the enormous extent that Mr. Woolworth had done. As part of his business legacy a troth of "five & dime" memorabilia survives today. However, gone forever are the Main Street Woolworth shops. Long lingering are the memories of life in a time gone by. As the "five and ten" helped shape early America, it also helped build personal jewelry collections. Be it the plastics, the pins or the parures from the past, they all remain part of the America of yesteryear. Article by Joyce Zakierski Simmons