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What Is a Five and Dime?

It must be getting older that brings on this wave of nostalgia from time to time, whether it be for old tv shows, food or family traditions.

The lunch counter in a former Woolworth's, Asheville, NC. The store is now a gallery for local artists.

The lunch counter in a former Woolworth's, Asheville, NC. The store is now a gallery for local artists.

Five and Dimes

An article in the local newspaper about the final days of a once-proud Canadian retailer started me down memory lane, a place I seem to hang out more and more these days.

A bit of background is in order...the U.S. investor who owned Zellers' parent company Hudson’s Bay Company (another sad tale) sold the leases on all of the Zellers department stores en masse to Target Stores back in January 2011. Target then converted the best of the Zellers' properties to Target stores. Target has since exited Canada.

Thinking about Zellers and Target had me reminiscing about the old Woolworths, conjuring memories of those wonderful little five and dimes.

Shopping With Mom

These wonderful stores were a destination when I was a kid. Shopping back then was an event, and you actually dressed up to go shopping. Today, we whip out of the house in our dirty sweats when we need to buy something. But back then, you got dressed up. Mom even had a particular hat she liked to wear when we went shopping. It was a little pillbox number with feathers on it. I didn’t need to wear my hat (that was for church), but she made sure my shoes were clean and whatever I had on was neatly pressed.

Mom and I would go “into the city” to shop once or twice a month back then. Taking the bus was such fun, and Mom would point out the same landmarks on every journey, on the way there and on the way back. It didn’t matter. I loved it all and felt oh so grown up to be on the bus.

We had our favorites for both shopping and eating, and after doing some browsing we would have some lunch. The Honey Dew, Freiman’s Department Store and Ogilvy, all were places we loved to go. Ah, but the five and dime was a particular favorite, and none was better at the time than Woolworths.

The Five and Dime

The whole five and dime concept was started by Woolworth Brothers back in 1879. Frank Winfield Woolworth, whose initials later appeared as part of the store's name, opened his very first successful five and dime in Lancaster PA. The idea back then was that everything in the store cost either five cents or 10 cents. As the years went by, the reality of that had to change of course, but these stores were places where you could find the most wonderful treasures and knickknacks you didn’t even know you needed.

There were regional “five and tens” as well, but the Woolworth name became synonymous with the variety store concept. S. S. Kresge and Company morphed into Kmart, while Walton’s Five and Dime became the giant Wal-Mart. The F.W. Woolworth chain ceased operation in 1997, more than one hundred years after its inception.

Greensboro Sit-in Lunch Counter

A portion of the lunch counter preserved in the Smithsonian

A portion of the lunch counter preserved in the Smithsonian

The Lunch Counter at the Five and Dime

I’m sure by now that someone has written a book about lunch counters. The lunch counter in five and dimes all over America became a place where folks could get a decent meal – often a cup of coffee and a sandwich – for 5 cents during the Depression.

As the years went by, the lunch counter became a place where “respectable” women could go unescorted by a man and eat without having to endure disapproving stares. Lunch counters also became flash points for change, and when four young African-American men sat down at a segregated Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro NC in 1960 and politely asked to be served, it started a six-month peaceful sit-in that forced Woolworth to desegregate its counter.

Come Back to the Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean

The Best Grilled Cheese

As a kid of course, I had no idea about any of that stuff. To me, the lunch counter at Woolworth’s was the best part of shopping. Well, make that second best after the malt stand in Freiman’s basement, but that wasn’t really lunch. I always had my favorite grilled cheese sandwich. It was served perfectly hot, with gooey cheese of a color of orange that doesn’t occur in nature, with fries and a nice crunchy dill pickle. Mom always started her lunch with a coffee— “bottomless cup” in those days—and she always asked me to open the little paper pyramids that held the cream, as she never could manage to open those without squirting cream all over.

Mom seemed to know everyone there too. All of the waitresses were super friendly. And whoever happened to be sitting on the stool beside Mom became her new best friend. She was always chatting with strangers, and by the time lunch was done they would have discovered that they had friends in common or both came from “up home”.

I Have Seen the Future and It Is Starbucks

The newspaper article that started all of this reminiscing also mentioned that, during renovations of the former Zellers store, Target had replaced the space occupied by the much-loved lunch counter with…a Starbucks.

Now I ask you, will Starbucks ever feed the soul like a lunch counter did? Or be an agent for social change?

© 2012 Kaili Bisson

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Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on May 06, 2016:

Hello RTalloni, you are welcome...a coke float! Just the thing! The basement in Freiman's store had a malt stand, so chocolate malts were something I got as a treat.

RTalloni on May 06, 2016:

No, I think not. :) But new generations won't have the comparison unless memories are documented so thanks for the trip down memory lane. I was too little to know much about the movements going on at the time, but I remember the air conditioned lunch counter and an original Coke float on a hot summer's afternoon in Florida!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on May 06, 2016:

Hi Glenn, so glad this brought back fond memories for you. I just loved those times with my Mom. And, you might be interested to know that Target came and went. They couldn't make a go of it here in Canada, so they closed up shop.

Glenn Stok from Long Island, NY on May 06, 2016:

Your article brought back a lot of memories of my childhood. F.W. Woolworth still existed back then. I remember going shopping with my mother and sitting at the lunch counter, just as you described.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 26, 2013:

Hi mts1098,

You are so welcome. I think we all get a little more nostalgic at this time of year too. You know, the Target store is now open, and I have yet to visit.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 26, 2013:

Hi ladybluewriter, mine as well...

mts1098 on December 25, 2013:

Do you know how many memories you just brought back with the 5 and Dime??? Add Woolworth on top and you created a master memory retrieval - In fact we were talking about these places not long ago - cheers and thanks

ladybluewriter from United States on December 22, 2013:

This store was so unique in my memory.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hello Wayne, you are so welcome. There was always just a treasure trove of stuff in those stores. They were great places to buy pencils and other school supplies. And bags of foreign stamps that you could soak off whatever bit of envelope they were still stuck to and then put into an album.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hello Teresa, I'm so glad this brought back such good memories. I visited Zellers this part week just so I could have a coffee in the closes today while the store itself will remain open until after the holidays.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hello dahoglund. It seems those two stores were often in close proximity to one another in larger centers. I'll have to check out Target when they arrive here!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hi Sueswan, you are welcome. Mothers and Grandmothers always seem to figure into our memories of these wonderful places. Merry Christmas to you!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hi Don and thank you. I hear you..."don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone". Sad but true.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hello Susan, I'm so glad this brought back fond memories for you. I used to visit my Grandmother in Montreal, and we had a similar ritual there too. My favourite was always the Christmas window at Ogilvy. Merry Christmas to you and yours as well!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hello Lorne and you are welcome! Oh I remember Simpson's in Toronto, what a great store it was. There was one on Sparks Street in Ottawa too...long gone.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hi gypsy48, ya great memories for me too of times with my Mom.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 15, 2012:

Hell skeeytyD and thank you for your feedback. Woolworth still exists here and there on the planet, but from what I have gathered the stores that still exist are not part of the original chain. There was just something magical about lunch there, that's for sure.

Wayne Brown from Texas on December 15, 2012:

In my little hometown down south, we had two five and dimes on the courthouse square,,,Horn's 5 & 10 Store and Ben Franklin's. Ben Franklin's was a frachised store front but I always thought Horn's was the better store. They had all these little bins chocked full just all kinds of could look forever through the stuff and I think we did. By the time that I finished high school in the mid-60's, both stores had closed as their inventory sources has dwindled with costs. Good times....thanks for reminding me. ~WB

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on December 15, 2012:

Love this article. It brings back so many memories of the lunch counter at Kresges in Sarnia, Ontario where I grew up. Oh, what sweet memories!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 15, 2012:

When I grew up Woolworth and Kresge were in our neighborhood. In the small towns there were Ben Franklin stores. The Ben Franklin stores were independent franchises rather than company operated. I interviewed for jobs in the dime store industry but it did not look like a career I would like. The Walgreen chain of drug stores also had lunch counters back then, at least in the bigger stores. Target is much like Kmart or Walmart although maybe a bit more appealing to some shoppers as being higher end.

Sueswan on December 15, 2012:

Hi Kaili

Thanks for bringing back good memories of the five and dime. I remember my mom and grandma use to take my sister and I shopping at Kresge's. My sister and I always ordered French fries with ketchup.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season

Voted up and sharing.

Don Bobbitt from Ruskin Florida on December 15, 2012:

Great Hub!

And, you know,if you think about it, we (and our fellow Americans) voted to have these small town stores shut down with our dollars.

We couldn't wait for the giant conglomerates to build enormous Shopping Centers and chain stores with their wider selection and lower prices.

So, just join me and sing along; "TAKE PARADISE, PUT UP A PARKING LOT............."

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on December 15, 2012:

I was just talking to my son the other day about Woolworths. Your hub brought back so many great memories for me. I remember in Montreal on Saturdays I too would get dressed up and take the bus downtown with my grandmother. We'd go to Eatons and Simpsons and of course stop in at Woolworths for a bite to eat.

Thanks and Merry Christmas!

Lorne Hemmerling from Prescott on December 14, 2012:

Wow, took me back! I had to go downtown Toronto, every second Monday with my grandmother to dental college to get my teeth fixed when I was very young. She always took me to lunch at the Simpson's diner in the department store. Great memories! Thanks for this article.

Gypsy48 on December 14, 2012:

I loved going to the five and dime. It was always a treat to go there with my mom, sure do miss it.

SkeetyD on December 14, 2012:

Great hub. Here in Barbados we still have a Woolworth store and I remember the lunch counter. They had the tastiest burgers. The lunch counter was retired about a decade or more ago and I really felt as if I lost a part of my childhood. These stores are definitely disappearing being bought by or muscled out by big business, they are surely the future

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 14, 2012:

Hello are so welcome!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 14, 2012:

Hi fastfreta. I'm glad this Hub brought back memories for you. Thank you for reading and for your kind words...and for sharing it!

Dianna Mendez on December 13, 2012:

I loved going with my fellow coworkers to the local five and dime to get a cup of tea and toast with jam. It was wonderful. Love Starbucks but it's just not the same. Thanks for the memory.

Alfreta Sailor from Southern California on December 13, 2012:

What a wonderful hub, you walked me right down memory lane. While reading this article, I became so nostalgic.

I never knew that how Wal-Mart and Kmart got their names, so informative. I loved every word, and I agree with you about Starbucks.

Rated up, awesome, interesting, and beautiful. I also pinned, and tweeted it.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 11, 2012:

Hello must have been fun to work there. Just getting to explore the aisles...get any employee discounts on egg salad?

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on December 11, 2012:

Ah, memories. When I was a kid, I loved Woolworth's egg salad sandwiches. I also worked at one for a summer.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 11, 2012:

Hello phoenix, I agree...Starbucks can't hold a candle to places like the lunch counter at a Woolworths.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 11, 2012:

Hello Mhatter, those were the days indeed. And I know what you mean about the pizza!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 11, 2012:

Hello moonlake and thank you. Woolworths was a hub for socializing in so many towns and cities. Such a shame there aren't places like that anymore.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 11, 2012:

Hi Deb, such great memories. Gee, Woolworths sold everything didn't they....even goldfish!

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on December 10, 2012:

The lunch counter was the high point of the day for me. I never really liked shopping (still not a fan) but it was worth it to have lunch at Woolworth's. I still can't believe that icon of my childhood is gone. :(

Starbucks? I don't think so.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on December 10, 2012:

Those were the days,. Thanks for the memories. We had an original Woolworth at Powell and Market with pizza so bad it was good.

moonlake from America on December 10, 2012:

I loved Woolworth. We would go on Friday night and take the kids do our shopping and eat at the lunch counter. People would have their cars parked along the street. Everyone would wave and we would stop to talk. Friday night was for people watching there were more cars taking up parking space for that than for parking to shop.

Enjoyed your hub voted up.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on December 10, 2012:

I recall those days, too. Mom like to go shopping in Menlo Park when we lived in NJ. We took the bus, and had lunch at Woolworth's. Sometimes I would get a goldfish or a painted turtle!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 10, 2012:

Hello rebecca, no more nickles and dimes for sure. And the Dollar store just doesn't have the same...atmosphere :-)

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 10, 2012:

Hi Deborah and thank you. I have my Mom's hats here in a box...somewhere. I miss those stores too. Dollar stores are just not the same. Woolworths and stores like that weren't junky...they were magical.

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 10, 2012:

Hello Paradise7 and thank you. Grilled cheese is still one of my favorite lunches :-)

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on December 10, 2012:

Very true! I remember a 5 and 10 store called Roses. I loved it. But then today it's the Dollar Tree. No more nickles and dimes!

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on December 10, 2012:

Oh I would love to see your mom's pillbox hat.. we had the five and dime stores here with soda fountain. I agree with you.. I really miss those stores..You painted me a great picture of your and your mom getting dressed up with her pill box hat which I would to see.. and going shopping .. great hub..

Merry Christmas



Paradise7 from Upstate New York on December 10, 2012:

Oh, that takes me so far back!! I remember Wooworth's and the lunch counter, too. My fav was also toasted cheese. Fancy that!

Kaili Bisson (author) from Canada on December 10, 2012:

Hi billybuc and thank you. Yes, I loved lunch at Woolworths and even went there without Mom as I got older. I can't imagine hanging out in a Starbucks :-)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 10, 2012:

I'm with you all the way with this hub. I loved walking into Woolworths and smelling the food. LOL And my mom worked at a dime store for five years, and I would visit her there every day after school. Loved it....and I hate Starbucks. :)

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