Woolworths : Pioneers Of The Five-And-Dime Stores.

The Woolworth (also known as the F. W. Woolworth Company) was one of the pioneers of the five and dime store. It was one of the most successful American five and dime business, which sets up trends and creates the modern retail model that other stores emulate globally today.

On February 22, 1878, Frank Winfield Woolworth opened the first Woolworth store called the “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York. At First, the store appeared to be succeeding, but it  failed. Woolworth began to search for a new location, and a friend of his, recommended Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

In June 1879, Woolworth made use of the sign from his Utica store, and then opened his first successful “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store”, in Lancaster. He introduced Charles Sumner Woolworth, his brother, into the business.

The brothers worked together and developed merchandising, sales, direct purchasing, and customer service practices that are commonly used in the store today. Despite its growth to be one of the biggest retail chains globally all through the 20th century, an increase in competition resulted in its decline that started in the year 1980. Though its division of sporting goods grew.

In July 1997, The retail chain went out of business, when the company took the decision to concentrate majorly on sporting goods. The company was renamed as Venator Group.

In 2001, the company concentrated exclusively on marketing sporting goods, and they changed their name to the Foot Locker, Inc. (This is the name they’re answering presently). In 2003, They also changed the symbol of their ticker from its familiar Z to its present ticker (NYSE: FL).

Most retail chains that use the Woolworth name survive in Germany, Austria, Mexico and, until the beginning of 2009, the UK.


Origin of Woolworth

The Woolworth Company’s five-and-dime stores were the first to sell discounted general merchandise at constant prices, usually 5 or 10 cents. This undercuts other local merchant prices. Woolworth became popularly known, as one of the first American retail stores to open doors of merchandise for the public to handle and choose without the sales clerk assistance. Initially, retailers were keeping all merchandise behind a counter and their customers presented the sales clerk with an itemized list of things they wished to buy.

On February 22, 1878, Frank Winfield Woolworth got credit from his former boss, William Moore after working in Moore and Augsbury dry goods store in Watertown, New York. He saved money and bought the “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York. On May 1878, the store failed and closed. In June 1879, Frank attempted the second time, and opened the “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store”, using the same sign., in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancaster proved to be successful, and Frank will ever remember the city for the rest of his life. Frank planned to open his second store in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and so he introduced his brother Charles Sumner “Sum” Woolworth and they both were to manage it. In July 1879, the Harrisburg store was opened. The store moved to York, Pennsylvania, after a falling-out with the landlord, and in March 1880. The new store did not last long either, it was closed 3 months later. On November 6, 1880, Frank looked for a bigger, low-rent building. Fortunately, he found a nice location in Scranton, Pennsylvania, at 125 Penn Avenue, and he opened their “5¢ & 10¢ Woolworth Bro’s Store”. Charles Summer was the manager. Charles completely developed the 5¢ & 10¢” merchandising model in Scranton store. He spent most of his time in working the sales floor, talking with employees as well as customers. He usually served his customers personally. Sales increased steadily. By Jan 1881, following Frank’s suggestion, Charles purchased his brother’s share of the Scranton store. This made him become the first Woolworth Bro’s franchisee.

In 1884, Charles partnered with his friend Fred Kirby to open another store in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, this is a neighboring town to the west of Scranton. In 1887, Fred purchased the store out from Charles and expand it under his name; Fred and Charles remained the best of friends. Frank was busy establishing and expanding more stores during this time. Charles uses a different approach; he was always working to perfect his Scranton store. All the syndicate chain’s stores looked alike inside and out, but was operated under its founder’s name. Frank Woolworth made provision of the merchandise. He encourages its rivals to club together so that they will maximize their purchasing power and inventory.


Rise and growth of Woolworths

In 1904, there were 6 chains of affiliated stores that were operating in the US and Canada. Between 1905 and 1908, Woolworth Syndicate members followed the leading of Frank to incorporate their businesses; Charles maintained that he didn’t need the incorporation of his stores. In 1912, the syndicate followed the agreement of a scheme crafted by Frank Woolworth: to combine forces and collaborate as one corporate entity under the “F. W. Woolworth Company” name in a merger of all 596 stores. The flotation of stock raised more than $30 million for the 5 founders of the joint chains. They all agreed and accepted to use Frank’s name above the door, with Frank as the new Corporation president. Charles Summer Woolworth, Fred Kirby, Seymour Knox, William Moore and Earle Charlton, each became Vice-President and Director.

In 1910, Frank Woolworth commissioned the construction and design of the Woolworth Building in New York.  The early skyscraper was designed by Cass Gilbert, American architect, a graduate of the school of  MIT architecture. The building was completed in 1913. It was very tall (the tallest building in the world until 1930). It served as the headquarter of the company until it was sold by the Venator Group (now Foot Locker), the F.W. Woolworth Company’s successor, in 1998.

In 1919, Frank Woolworth, the president and founder of F. W. Woolworth, Corporation, died, in Glen Cove, New York. Charles’s demeanor made him an excellent candidate to head the Woolworth Corporation after his brother’s death. He was never confrontational, as everybody else positioned themselves in the company. He was asked to take on the Presidency by the Board of Directors but he declined. However, he did agree to take the role of a Chairman. Hubert Parson, the Company Treasurer, took the role of the Presidency. Over the following 25 years, Charles saw the coming and going of 4 Presidents. He gave each one of them good counsel and quiet-spoken advice.

The Woolworth company concept was widely copied all around the world, and the five-and-dime stores became a 20th-century fixture in all the downtowns in American. They would anchor shopping malls and suburban shopping plazas in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.



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