By Gail Moore Woltkamp
In my very early childhood, my grandmother and I would walk a few residential blocks from my house, pass by several store fronts, including my dad’s barbershop, to the Woolworth’s store in downtown Independence, Kansas.
Once reaching our destination, our shopping experience was never disappointing. Sweeper bags, hula hoops, aspirin or a hairbrush, Woolworth’s was THE place for buying whatever we wanted or needed.
As soon as we walked through the door, the smells of perfume and day-old popcorn would welcome us back like an old friend. Down the slanted entry ramp and onto the wide-open fluorescent-lit shopping space, Grandma would head for the household items and I would go directly to the aisle filled with miniature ceramic figurines.
After shopping the aisles, we would go to the lunch counter and order a grilled cheese sandwich and what was to me, their signature drink: a concoction of orange juice, milk, crushed ice and phosphate, aptly named the “Orange Whip.”
To this day, I have dreams about that Woolworth’s…the signature fluorescent luncheonette sign; the endless aisles filled with ten cent treasures, Woolworth’s, no doubt, made an impact on me…
Retail Pioneers 💙
Woolworth’s history in my hometown in Kansas and towns and cities across the country is a long and thriving one. Some deem the F.W. Woolworth Company the most successful retail five and dime chain store in all retail history. (Remembering Woolworth’s, Karen Plunkett-Powell, St. Martin’s Press, 1999)
Although the first store that opened its doors in Utica, New York, failed, Frank and Charles, the Woolworth brothers, opened a new store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1879 that would be the first successful “Great Five Cent Store.”
Famous Lunch Counter ❤️
On February 1, 1960, four African American students from the Agricultural and Technical College of North Carolina sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter at 123 S. Elm Street in Greensboro, North Carolina. Up to that point, the lunch counter had been for “whites only.”
When the students were refused a cup of coffee and asked to leave the lunch counter, the four freshmen refused to get up. The “Greensboro Four” or the “A&T Four,” as they would later be known, stayed until the store closed.
The next day, twenty more African American students went to the Woolworth’s store to join what is now famously known as the “Greensboro sit-ins.” Each day, the number of student peaceful protesters grew while other cities in North Carolina launched their own “sit-ins.” (international civil rights museum Website)
A sit-in movement spawned in additional cities and states in the south. After nearly six months of boycotts, store owners abandoned their segregation policies.
Visit the sites! 🧡
In 1993, a section of the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter was relocated to the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., in Washington D.C.
The remaining portion of the lunch counter, including the stools where the “Greensboro Four” sat, has been preserved in its original Woolworth location, 134 S. Elm Street, Greensboro, NC, now home to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, which opened on February 1, 2010, the fiftieth anniversary of the original sit-in. firstname.lastname@example.org
An additional exhibit titled “Standing Up by Sitting Down” honoring the first national peaceful protest is displayed at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel. This exhibit includes original interactive video footage and honors the original 1960s sit-ins in the south.
Woolworth’s Today ❤️
The last Woolworth’s store in the United States closed its doors in 1997. While other retailers have used its name in many variations across the world, only a couple of those chains and corporations are currently connected to the original F.W. Woolworth Company brand.
In the US, the company restructured, existing as Foot Locker, Inc. which sells sports apparel and footwear, and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. (FL) ☮️
National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel website
NYSE: The New York Stock Exchange (Website)
“Remembering Woolworth’s, A Nostalgic History of the World’s Most Famous Five and Dime,”Karen Plunkett-Powell, St. Martin’s Press; 1999
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History website