Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Woolworths

Today I stopped by SLU Pius library to quickly return a few books, as I had only put 15 cents in the parking meter on Olive in a shady spot behind what I still call the Midtown State Office Building (now the SLU School for Professional Studies). Not that many years ago (1999 I guess), part of my job as a new intern with the City was working with DFS people in that building on a public-access computer project. Getting an analog line for hooking up a modem to provide public internet access turned out to be impossible given their PBX system. Ah, those were the days.

But as I drove across Grand on Olive, I reminisced further back, to the days when F.W. Woolworth Co. was still in business throughout St. Louis and her leafy suburbs.

I suppose in some ways the place of Woolworth's in American society was not that different from the Wal-Mart of today. In fact, in 1997 as Woolworth's declined, it was replaced by Wal-Mart on the Dow Jones.

Woolworth's stores, as well as S.S. Kresge stores (the precursor to K-Mart), however, were located in city neighborhoods and suburban strip malls. They were much more of a human-scaled store. Think about where Woolworths stores were located:

Grand and Olive
6th and Locust
South Grand near Hartford
Cherokee and California
Concord Village Shopping Center on S. Lindbergh (that is the one I remember best, from my days as a little 'un in South County).
...
and I'm sure there were dozens of others that either closed well before I came along, or were just outside my sphere of activity. I vaguely recall an S.S. Kresge store in Hampton Village about where the Great Clips is now.

The big store at Cherokee and California is today a Mexican grocery store, but if you look closely, you can still see the "no soliciting" decals in the windows next to the front doors, not to mention the holes in the stucco where the lettered signage was once mounted. Similarly, you can tell there used to be a Woolworth's in the former "Comp and Soft" space on S. Grand because of the distinctive red metal signage.

When I was an exchange student in South Africa, I discovered their Woolworths chain, which was and is a very high-end operation owned by the similarly high-end British retailer Marks & Spencer -- and apparently not even affiliated with the Woolworths in the UK, which was part of F.W. Woolworth until 1982.

I guess I was disappointed at the time to see just how high-end, and heavily grocery-oriented, the African version was. Seemed rather counter-intuitive, with so much poverty just a few miles away. I was more likely myself to buy groceries at a Shoprite store, or at one of the little ramshackle trailers and ISO containers housing independently-owned walk-up stores located amidst the dormitories or near the Metrorail stop on the UWC campus.

4 comments:

Turner Publishing said...

Sorry to leave this as a comment. I didn't see an email address.

I’m going around to all the St. Louis area bloggers/freelancers to let them know about our new book by two local authors, the Historic Photos of St. Louis by Jean Gosebrink and Adele Heagney. We’d love to send you a complimentary copy for possible review consideration on your blog of this book. This title is done in a large 10x10 format and all images used are culled from several archives that represent rare or never before seen photos of St. Louis. We’re trying to get the word out to local folks, so I hope you don’t mind me dropping you a line to let you know about our books!

You can find the authors locally at a signing at Barnes & Noble on Ladue Rd from 1-3pm .

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Rachel Joiner
Marketing Manager
www.turnerpublishing.com

Anonymous said...

Some other St. Louis area Woolworth's locations were:

Grandview Plaza (Florissant - closed 1981?)

Northwest Plaza (St. Ann - closed 1989)

West County Mall (Des Peres - closed 1992)

River Roads Mall (Jennings - closed 1992)

Crestwood Plaza (Crestwood - closed ??)

Main Street (Downtown St. Charles - closed early 1980's)

Natural Bridge Road (Pine Lawn - closed 1994)

Collinsville Ave (East St. Louis - closed 1994)

Nameoki Village (Granite City - closed 1994)

Delmar @ Skinker (U. City - closed 1994)

Forstyhe??? (Clayton - closed ??)

NW Professional Tax said...

Wow being an exchange student in south africa, that pretty unique. I always hear about people going to australia or england or France but south africa is a new one on me. Did you enjoy staying down their?

Unknown said...

I can remember back when I was just a little one in the mid 60'2 to the mid 80's going into the downtown store on grand with my grandmother we would ride the bus there,that was a special treat for me because we lived right off Cherokee and always went to that store.Sitting at the lunch counter spinning around on the stools and drinking a real soda.Then as I got older I was allowed to walk to the store with my friends and spend a dollor aybe two but would come home with all kinds of candy and a new toy.Those were some good times and days now I look at the areas and they are a sad site.I miss the old days of being able to go into the woolworth run up and down the stairs to the basement which is where the toys were,hey I was a kid then what did you expect bet that anyone who reads this can not say they didn't do it also.Was just taking a trip down memory lane while I still can I am fighting lung cancer right now and have been since I found out in March,so I don't get out too much anymore and very rare if I get to the city.It was a sad day when they closed there doors