A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Smaller Stores of a Bygone Era

English: Woolworth department store in Kassel
 Woolworth department store in Kassel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         Many years ago the mom and pop stores and chains of smaller stores were the mainstay of the American shopping scene.   The department store was typically something one would find downtown or in larger shopping districts.   Dry goods stores, pharmacies, variety stores, and other smaller specialty shops would comprise most of the real estate in those shopping districts.

         Prior to the 1950's there were no shopping malls as we know them today.  A few prototypical shopping ventures experienced some success before that time, but not like the mega shopping complexes surrounded by acres of parking that we've become so accustomed to in the past several decades.   As society became more suburbanized, the stores followed the customers to the areas surrounding the city centers and many cities lost much of the downtown shopping that they had once had.

          My favorite places to shop when I was a kid were the variety stores also known as "five and dime stores".   They were often chains such as Ben Franklin, Kresge's, Woolworth, and others.   These stores carried just enough to keep me busy looking and dreaming what I'd buy on some future occasion or at that moment if I was so fortunate to have a bit of change jingling in my pockets.

         In those days my allowance was a quarter, but it was amazing how far those quarters could go.  Merchandise was inexpensive.   I might buy toys, books, or a packet of foreign postage stamps to add to my collection.   My mother was usually pretty generous with extra nickels and dimes to allow me to buy a candy bar or some other treat during those visits to the store.   We'd go there at least a couple times each week.  After all, the Ben Franklin Store was right near the De Falco's Supermarket that was in the small shopping center called "The Quad".   That was in the San Diego, California suburb called Clairemont.   These were the years between 1959 and 1964.   It was a span of time that was short in retrospect, but it seems like decades in my memory.

           Many of those small stores were the precursors to the behemoths that came along later.   Kresge's became KMart.   Woolworth became the now defunct Woolco.  Walmart began as the Walton's Five and Dime which before that had been a Ben Franklin Store.    A few small variety stores remain scattered across the country, but for the most part the large discount stores have filled the need of the people for wide selection at the lowest prices.

          The future of shopping will probably for the most part be centered on the internet.   The specialty chains like Staples and Best Buy are already closing stores in order to cut costs and centralizing their businesses to distribution centers that fill orders made online and delivered directly to the customer's door.

          Convenience is the key in a time-strapped modern society.   Why drive when you can order from the comfort of your own home and have someone deliver product to your door within a day or two?   Personally I miss those old variety stores.   They were like heaven to my young mind.  Of course I had not seen the discount stores like we have now.   I don't think those variety stores would impress many kids today.

           Did you shop at five and dime stores when you were a kid?   What are some of the variety stores that you remember?    Do you shop at the stores like Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, or 99 Cent Stores?    


  1. Our shopping experiences in Australia parallel yours, though about 10-15 years later.
    We had a lot of angst when supermarkets came, and those concerns played out as expected, with hundreds on mum and dad shops closing, as well as large stores.
    Now, we are at the mercy of the multinationals, and worse, so are our food suppliers, as the biggies beat down the prices for fresh foods to the extent that the producers are on the ropes, but the customers still pay high prices.
    There is good and bad about the changes, and we certainly have a much wider choice of food and goods, but the morality behind it worries me considerable.

  2. Hi Lee - we used to have Woolworths here in the UK - and it was a good old shop for so many things .. but our pocket money would be spent at one of the local village shops - where we could get gobstoppers, liquorice pieces and sherbet tubes et al ... I used to shop for sewing things at Woolies ...

    But times have changed and I hate the way everything in our towns and high streets is homogenized ... still people keep setting up new shops and trying out new ideas - good luck to them I say ...

    Cheers Hilary

  3. When I was little the malls were just starting to be built; the Cape Cod Mall opened in 1970 but there was a Woolworths and I loved it. There is still a Ben Franklin in Chatham that I went in last year which had great stuff. There is also a separate Ben Franklin Crafts but not where I live here (there was one in my town in WA though). Sometimes I go to the dollar stores but their stuff is pretty poor quality.

  4. My mother used to take me to a five and dime store and Woolworths, as she had friends who worked there. I was allowed to look at everything while she chatted. Going to the downtown area meant dressing up a bit more.

    I dislike the 'box' stores where you need to walk a mile to find what you want, but I tend to shop where I get the best value and avoid those stores I don't care for. I like the convenience of going to one place as in the mall, but the thing I loved about Vancouver when I first moved here was that they still had little street shopping districts for each community. I lived in 'little Italy' on first arrival.

    Bigger isn't always better. It's hard to find salespeople now as everything is self-serve.

  5. Oh boy do I remember those days. About the time I started high school the big changes were becoming very evident.

    But when I was a kid... yeah, Woolworth's and other "Five and Dimes" were all over the place. I remember one in Orange County near our house in the mid-1960s. I used to go there and buy these small ceramic characters for my Ma. They cost a dime and there were lots of molds to choose from - Circus Clown, Deer, Pony, etc. I actually still have a couple of them in a box somewhere in the garage.

    I remember Sav-On, J.J. Newberry, TG&Y, and Zody's.

    There's one in particular though that I can't recall the name of, and that's really bugging me now. This was my very favorite store circa 1970 (and it was my Ma's favorite, too).

    I know there were at least two of these stores in the L.A. area (maybe they were strictly a Southern California store), and at night we'd sometimes go to the one nearest us. I think it was on Sawtelle Blvd., or else Centinela, in Culver City. Anyway, I could still, right this second, drive to the exact spot where it was located but I can't for the life of me recall the name... Damn-it!

    It wasn't a Zody's but it had a similar kind of funky name, and they sold all kinds of unusual things like fancy, elaborate candles, etc. I used to buy sealing wax there and metal stamps for use with sealing wax - stamps with the signs of the zodiac and letters of the alphabet and such.

    My Brother reminded me of another place we used to like: "The Surprise Store". I recall the name vividly but can just barely picture it in my mind. It was on the South side of either Venice Blvd. or Washington Blvd. pretty close to where Santa Monica and West Los Angeles meet.

    Lee, remember Crown Books? Man, I spent a ton of money at Crown Books!

    "Thanks for the stroll down Amnesia Lane."

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  6. Wangi-- I've been noticing lately how some food prices haven't seemed to have changed for the past 20 years whereas beef, bread,and dairy products have about doubled or more. Supermarkets have a lot of variety, but they don't have much personality.

    Hilary -- I see a lot of small businesses come and go. People try out their dreams and lose while a small few actually succeed.

    JoJo-- A lot of the dollar store stuff is lacking in quality, but you can still get some pretty decent bargains. I don't shop at those much though.

    DG-- People used to dress up to go everywhere when I was a kid. The cultural shock came when we moved to San Diego and things were a lot more casual. Now I'm almost embarrassed by the shameless ways people dress when they go out. I can't bring myself to dress like that--I feel the need to look like I care about the way I look in public.

    StMc-- Indeed I do remember Crown Books. There were still some around when I moved to L.A. in the 90's, but I think they've all gone now. I never bought much at those book stores since there were none really close by, but I did make a few trips to the store they had at Lakewood Mall--it was a pretty big store as I recall. Your dime store forays sound similar to mine--dime stores were made for kids I think.


  7. Dear Lee, yes, as a child I was like you in that I found the Kresge store to be fascinating. My feet roamed the aisles just as my fingers roamed the pages of the Montgomery Ward catalogue at home. I do shop occasionally at a dollar store. Just this past week I went to two of them looking for stickers to use with my Morning Pages. No luck. But I'll return! Peace.

  8. It's funny, Lee-

    You're not the only one who predicts the closure of all stores, yet the reason I tend to buy online is that the parking lots for brick and mortar stores are packed, as are the stores.

    Plus, for certain items (clothing, shoes), I'm tired of having to hunt for the right size. I've bought shoes and pants online for more than a decade.

    I still check the price, and do not seem to have to pay a premium for the online goods (yet), even considering the shipping cost.

    Were that to happen, I might return to the malls (assuming they have anything other than cell phone stores left in them).

    That is my one piece of advice, unsolicited as it is, to online shoppers. Beware of shipping and "handling" costs-these can make that bargain price turn into a rip-off. As far as I am concerned, anything other than the post office charge is a scam-they would be handling this product when stocking it in the store, and paying rent and utilities on the retail space, risking inventory shortages, breakage, etc.

    Businesses SAVE money buy selling direct, and many try to pad their profits because people do not pay attention.

    I am not afraid to close the web browser when I see ridiculous charges tacked on at the end.

  9. BOIDMAN ~
    You have no idea how much my inability to remember the name of that favorite store was irritating me! You know, the one I mentioned that sold odd, interesting items like fancy candles and sealing wax, etc. (And my Brother was no help at all.)

    So I went to bed for the day, and the very first time I awoke to use the restroom - WAM! - the name was right there in my mind and on my tongue.

    The store was called AKRON (remember I said it was something odd-sounding like Zody's?) There were at least two of them in the L.A. area and we frequented the one on Sawtelle or Centinela in Culver City / West L.A.-ish.

    Great store with all kinds of unique doodads and odds 'n' ends. You never knew for sure what you'd find in that store (except I think artificial plants and flowers were pretty much a staple) and I could get lost in that store for a couple hours just browsing and debating what to spend my allowance money on.

    The second I said "AKRON" to my Brother, he remembered it.

    You ever heard of that store before, Lee?

    ~ D-FensDogg
    'Loyal American Underground'

  10. I too miss the five and dimes of my youth. There was one about a half mile from my house that my mother used to take me to. It had everything you could imagine. As I grew older I found out that it was owned by the gym teacher (that just dated me, who calls PE gym anymore - other than me - I still call those fancy running shoes that I wear 'gym shoes', cause that's what any kind of canvas{today leather}, lace up shoes ARE) at my elementary school. How cool was that? Now I could not only browse through tons of amazing articles, but I might also run into the ever cool gym teacher. HA!

    I hate to shop anyway, but going into the big box stores like Wal-Mart really make me cringe. Unfortunately, because of $$$, I reluctantly do.

  11. I miss the five and dime stores. It's sad that most of the mom & pop stores no longer exist. I remember going shopping as a kid and the employees would know us by name. They were so friendly. As far as the big malls, I now avoid them. Too many people. I do some of my shopping by internet, but I do try to do as much as I can locally.

  12. Hey Lee! Great subject!
    The first 'covered shopping mall' in Canada was Park Royal in West Vancouver. I think it opened around 1950.
    I used to go to a lot more small family-type businesses, but the big box stores have pushed a lot of them out. Add to that, that here in Canada our Canadian businesses all seem to have been absorbed by big American companies. We have a gigantic Wal-Mart here now, and our Canadian discount department store, Zellers, is now a Target...Tim Horton's, a Canadian institution,(donuts and coffee!), is now owned by Burger King...we are sometimes hard pressed to find a one hundred percent Canadian business.
    As far as dollar stores and the like, I frequent those for every birthday party, bbq or other family gathering. You can't beat .99cent balloons, napkins or toys for grab bags!
    When I was a kid in Toronto, I remember going to the corner store with my allowance. Back then we could get a chocolate bar for .5cents and a bottle of coke for about .10cents. With a dollar a kid would be set for a whole weekend!

  13. Dee-- Yes, those old catalogs provided much fodder for the dreams of things we'd like to have someday. They were fun to peruse even if we couldn't afford much of what was there.

    Larry-- I always check out the shipping and handling charges if I'm contemplating an online purchase. I like the free shipping and often the product prices are the same as what one would pay in a store so that buying online is cheaper. Maybe someday when all the stores are put out of business our quest for a bargain will backfire on us.

    StMc-- I've been to Akron, Ohio, but I've never heard of an Akron store. What an odd name--but maybe not.

    FAE-- I hated gym class! You've just inspired a future post about this.

    Susanne-- I don't go to the malls anywhere as much as I used to. Now when I go it's to go with my wife and that's not too often.

    Eva-- I think the trend is toward international companies many of which are based or were started in the U.S. I'm not sure what the future holds, but ownership of companies may not be centered in the U.S. in years to come.



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