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Drop a Dime

Those of us alive then remember the vibrant downtown streets of the ‘50’s, before today’s big box stores and online shopping. Besides plenty of department stores and two movie theatres on Main Street, our little town of 20,000 had two dime stores, where my babysitting money and 50-cent weekly allowance went farther.

front of Woolworth building

The older and cheaper of the two was Woolworth’s. It had dark wood floors with varnish worn off years before. If I reached down and rubbed it, I’d have come away with 25 splinters and plenty of dirt, too.  But I always delighted in the treasure hunt as I stalked its creaky aisles. There were toys galore, many no longer in favor:  Lincoln Logs, Pick-Up Stix, and Tinkertoys, all in convenient storage tubes. Dolls were plentiful, too, like Betsy-Wetsy and no-name, less expensive varieties with plenty of accessories. Every baby needs a bottle, diapers and clothes, right? 

There were metal toy cars and trucks with little doors that opened. It still amazes me that we enjoyed them so, when none blinked or beeped or roared, other than the slight siren-esque sound of the racing wheels as we rubbed them on the ground before letting go.

The store sold Blue Waltz Perfume, plenty of Maybelline cosmetics and Lilt Home Permanents, some in boxes turned sallow with age and darkened by a layer of dust. No false eyelashes graced the shelves, but eyelash curlers cost only 49 cents and gussied up our lashes faster and cheaper. Mounds of penny candy, shelved at kid-level, kept the town dentists in business until retirement. For the more practical shoppers, there were aprons, pots and pans, nightgowns, cans of Dutch Boy Cleanser, and Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear.

Up the street was Kresge’s, a younger, better-lit store. It had all the things Woolworth’s did, plus a lunch counter! Set along the side wall of the building, it served heavenly grilled sandwiches, slender, delicious French Fries and fountain sodas. Remember when you could get a Lemon or Cherry Coke, a Chocolate Nip, a Green River, or even a Cherry Phosphate?

I also liked the place because it provided a Christmas job for me during my high school senior year. At first, I worked in the toy department, helping customers find toys and games like Bop the Beetle. Later I was promoted to a special counter selling only hot dogs and coneys.  Another employee and I dished them up on steamed buns, slathering on requested condiments and wrapping them carefully in butcher paper.

The trickle-down economy was alive and well in those Old School stores, even before it had a name.      


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