|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?