What Happened To All the Woolworths?
Before Department stores we had General Stores. Many young boys worked as stock-boys to earn wages, including Frank Winfield Woolworth, who would eventually open up his own retail empire, F.W. Woolworth Co. Working at Augsbury & Moore's Drygoods in Watertown, Frank Woolworth noticed early on that most items in the store didn't carry a price tag, prompting Frank to question the business practices of the store. He set up a table in the store and filled it with merchandise that usually didn't sell well and customers couldn't help themselves from buying!
F.W. Woolworth opened his own five-cent store in Utica, New York with $321 worth of 5-cent goods. It was one of the first stores to put the merchandise in front of the customer rather than rely on a store clerk.
In 1912 there were over 596 F. W. Woolworth stores in the nation. One year later in 1913 the Woolworth building in Manhattan in New York City was completed. The skyscraper kept its title as the tallest building in the world until 1930.
Keeping prices low became a large challenge in the 1930s. After 55 years you could no longer go into the store and buy anything for a nickel or a dime. The company raised the prices to twenty cents, then in 1935 the board decided that "the selling-price limit of twenty cents on merchandise be discontinued in the store chain. It became a variety store rather than a dime store.
The Greensboro Sit-in
On February 1st, 1960, four black students sat down to eat at the segregated lunch counter at an F.W. Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina. Just a few minutes before, the men, which are also known as the A&T Four, had bought toothpaste and other products at the desegregated counter. However, once they sat down at the segregated counter, they were refused service when they asked for a cup of coffee. The store policy forbad service of black men at the "whites only" counter, so instead, the men stayed at the lunch counter until closing to protest the inequality of segregation.
It took until 1965 for all American Woolworth stores to desegregate.
The 1960s were a rough time for the Woolworth name. Not only had they lost profits due to boycotts, but they had also gained competitors such as Wal-Mart and Kmart. In October of 1993, Woolworth's closed over 400 general variety stores in hope to gain profits. On July 17, 1997, the last Woolworth's store was closed and the company renamed, becoming Foot Locker Inc (which Woolworth started all the way back in the '70s).
Even though the company went under in the '90s, Woolworth's lunch counters are still alive and true in the 21st century, complete with sodas and burgers.