Friday, May 16, 2014

Uptown History:
A Woolworth's Blast from the Past

One of our staff members, Sheila Powell, brought me a menu and few articles about Woolworth's, the business that preceded and prospered in the building the Uptown is currently in. The menu and the articles were both very interesting reads, and it triggered some reminiscing about the store that once dominated retail.

I will always remember taking a walk from just up the road at 327 Marquette Street and coming down to 1st Street. One would think I would have stopped at my family's business, but instead we would go next door to Woolworth's and look at the latest Nintendo games in that locked case... about where our pasta cooker is now installed. Or, my brother and sister and I would watch the fish or gerbels in the animal section... about where Ray's office is right now. And I still remember the managers of Woolworth's looking out the upstairs office window - now mine - gazing over the store and wondering what the heck those unsupervised 12-year-old children were up to!

But perhaps the most interesting was a copy of the menu, printed in 1964. Some of the prices are beyond comprehension. Always listening to grandparents and aunts/uncles talk about 5¢/gallon gas and things like that, you just can't imagine it. To see it on a menu, 65¢ a baked ham and cheese sandwich with pickles and potato chips, or 35¢ for a double rich malted milk shake... it's just hard to believe!

I remember the kitchen at the old Woolworth's.  It was on the west side of the building where our bar room tables now reside. There were no windows then, and I can vividly remember that long counter with the red bar stools secured to the floor. I never did eat at the old Woolworth's, as my parents would never give me any money, but looking back I wonder how they would do in today's economy.

Everyone is so busy.....ALL THE TIME! As a society, we hardly have time for lunch anymore. I listen to some of our staff that has children and all the places they have to take them for sports and school and this summer project or weekend sporting group, and it's tiring just listening to them. Between Facebook and email and the fact we pretty much carry work with us in our pocket (iPhones) everywhere we go, I think that Woolworth's may have been a little ahead of their time. What a novel idea to shop and grab a bite to eat!

The funniest thing was in reading an article from the New York Times dating back to July 18th, 1997.  It said, and I quote, "clever, strong-willed merchants have been replaced by computer systems, and American shoppers no longer have time to linger over a grilled cheese sandwich at a store lunch counter". If we didn't have time in 1997 to stop for lunch, what does the world think now? To me it seems perfect... go shop and grab a quick bite to eat if the store could do at least a half-way decent job. I have no extra time, so why not kill two birds with one stone in the ever busy lifestyle so many of us lead today.

We are starting to see our local grocery store Hyvee go this direction in a more upscale manner. Heck, HyVee will even be offering beer soon. Maybe Woolworth's was just too far ahead of it's time!

Obviously the store was not financially successful or they wouldn't have closed nationwide, but I just wonder how the store would do today. It's been almost 20 years since the last Woolworth's store closed its doors, but my memories still remain.  I can't help but be reminded everyday because it still feels like I'm walking into one every time I come to work. What a great store it used to be!

If anyone has some memories of their own or even some pictures they'd like to share, please do.  We'd love to hear your stories and see what you might have lying around of the old store!

1 comment:

  1. Just found this article and want to thank you for sharing the memories! This Woolworth location was the very first store I managed back in 1991 and was there for a couple years and was transferred out just prior to its eventual closing. Years later, I would return with my two oldest kids that would have been very young when I managed there. The store was closed but that point and the transformation had been under way. I had mentioned that I was one of the last managers of the Woolworth there and I was given one more opportunity to see what at that time still remained untouched behind the scenes. Lots of memories in that place and it is so good to hear that the building is still thriving….

    Thanks again for the post!

    Kevin J Brehm
    Former manager of Woolworth Store #385 in LaSalle, IL