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.