Woolworths closed its doors in the United States in 2001, so American shoppers haven't missed it for years. But recent news in the New York Times that Woolworths is closing all of its 807 stores in Britain, with the last one closing Jan. 5, may send another wave of nostalgia through anyone who grew up with the store.
The "Five and Dime" store, as my grandma called it, was a fun place for a kid and an inexpensive place to get some toys. I remember my grandma taking me there and buying me Army men and a sticker book to bring back to her house, and we often had lunch there -- a grilled cheese sandwich and a Coke was the perfect lunch for me.
As the Times story pointed out, Woolworths was the first shopping experience for a lot of kids who took their allowance or whatever change they could gather. It introduced them to the world of consumerism. It was around when shopping seemed like a treat.
"All we had was Woolworths," Lena Smith, now 50, told the Times. "It was the first big shopping place for us. It was our shopping experience."
Britain had few department stores when Woolworths was in its heyday. F.W. Woolworth reinvented itself as Food Locker Inc. in the United States when it closed Woolworths in 2001. It was long separated from its American parent. Woolworths was the place to go for everyday items that can now be found at Target, Kmart and Kohl's, among many other places: Soap, an ironing board, wrapping paper, underwear, paperclips and shower curtains.
"It was just someplace you could come and get all those odd things -- shoe polish, curtains, mops, safety pins, paintbrushes, pillowcases," said Georganne Uxbridge, 56, to the Times.
The memories of Woolworths will probably stay with me forever. I clearly remember riding my bike there, buying a goldfish and having it die within a few days. What did I do? What else but ride my bike back to Woolworths for another goldfish, this time being careful not to shake the bag as I rode home.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.talesofanunemployeddad.blogspot.com