Five & Dimes

Today’s post will be a double whammy. We’ll start with one of my favorite country songs, and then explore my memories of the old Five & Ten Cent stores.

I’ll bet those 18 wheelers delivered many of the goods sold in the Five & Ten cent stores.

I’d hate to tell you how many favorite country songs I have, but I will say that Alabam sings more than a few of them. The number is probably close to equaling my list of favorite oldies, and classic songs from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. As I’ve said in earlier posts, I agree totally with Louie Armstrong. There’s good music and there’s bad music. I like good music.

Now, let’s examine my memories of the long forgotten Five & Ten Cent stores. I’ve already mentioned two of the names used to describe those stores, but our family used a third, more simple name – Five and Tens. The closest one to our home was a Franklin Store in Crafton, Pennsylvania. It was less than a mile from our home and was located right next door to the A&P grocery store. Dr. Crumm had an office on the second floor of the same building, but we didn’t have to climb any stairs to get there. The building was built into the side of a hill. Thus, there was a street and a sidewalk running up the hill and beyond the store. We simply walked up the hill to the Doctor’s office.

In truth, the hills were the most negative aspect of the store’s location. To get there from our house was mostly down hill. Obviously, the opposite was true for returning home. It was no fun having to carry a number of heavy bags walking back up a fairly steep hill. But let’s concentrate on the store itself.

Similar to the other Five & Tens of the time, the floor of the store was tongue and groove hard wood. Come to think of it, the floors in our elementary school were the same. Our janitor would sweep the floors by dumping sawdust in front of his broom and pushing the entire mess toward the door where he would scoop it up with a dust pan. Perhaps that was a common way to treat the hard wood flooring. I’d imagine the cleaning folks at the Five & Ten did likewise.

The store was divided into ‘departments’ and each area had its own displays of merchandise, a salesclerk or two, and at least one cash register.

In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, most of the items at a Five & Ten actually sold for a nickel or dime. While there were some items carrying a higher price tag, I’d guess that around fifty percent or more were the lower priced items. Eventually the stores ran out of items that could be sold for those low prices and the names of the stores had to be changed. Basically, the stores dropped the Five & Ten portion and simply used the other part of the name. Woolworth’s, Murphy’s, Kresge’s, and Grant’s all fell into that category. In later years some of them changed their names again… in an effort to make their stores seem new and more modern. Murphy’s became Murphy-Mart, and Kresge’s became K-Mart.

My brother, Doug (who was also known as Little Lew) worked at a Murphy’s in downtown Pittsburgh. They employed his talents in various ways, but the thing I remember most was when he came home with a new product that he would soon be modeling. It was called “Man-Tan”. He applied it to his face, hands, and arms and was soon radiating as though he’d just returned from a vacation at the beach. He then went to work and tried to convince others to try the suntan in the bottle. I’m not sure how successful he was. Hopefully there have been no side effects. Although this event happened more than fifty years ago, we never know about long term side effects until they arise.

Another thing I vividly recall about one particular Five & Ten is the lunch counter at the Woolworth’s in downtown Pittsburgh. While I hated going shopping with my mother, the trip was made somewhat better with a quick bite to eat at Woolworth’s.

As I recall doing my Christmas shopping at a Five & Ten, I’m reminded of the positive aspects of having a cash register in each department. A number of our family members could be in the same store at the same time and not be able to see who was buying what. Of course, there might have been some spying going on, but not having to carry everything to a check out line in the front of the store made it easier to make a quick purchase and get it out of sight in a brown paper bag. In those days, plastic was not an option. Come to think of it, we couldn’t even use plastic to pay for our purchases.

Wall-Mart and Target are the modern equivalents to the old Five & Dime stores, but they’re just not the same. Perhaps if they replaced the linoleum with tongue and groove hardwood floors, they’d be a little bit closer to the real thing, but I doubt they care what old Baby Boomers think. Besides, such a change would require lots of wood and sawdust at a time when we’re trying to save the trees.

Let’s leave the old stores behind and listen to Alabama give us their thoughts on saving trees!


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