Woolworth Memories ~ From Main Street to State Street

Woolworth's Unknown Location

The F. W. Woolworth Company, also called Woolworth’s or Woolworth, delighted children and their parents alike for more than a century. In Illinois, 25 Woolworth stores, mostly in Chicago and the suburbs, were shuttered forever in July 1997. In the UK, the stores lasted a decade longer, going out of business in December 2008. The very last thing I bought at Woolworth’s when the store was liquidating stock, was a pair of Barbie roller skates for my then 9-year-old daughter.

nside Woolworth's 1955

The store closures symbolized the end of quite a run that began on February 22, 1878 when Frank Winfield Woolworth opened “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” in Utica, New York. The first store failed after a short time, however, the second store that opened on July 18, 1879 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania was a big success. When he launched the Lancaster store, Frank enlisted his brother Charles Sumner Woolworth to join the business.

By 1904, there were six affiliated chains operating throughout the U.S. and Canada under the Woolworth Syndicate. At the suggestion of Frank Woolworth, the syndicate agreed to join forces and incorporate under the corporate entity “F. W. Woolworth Company” in 1912. This equated to a merger of 596 stores.

Woolworth's 463 Fifth Avenue 1935

Woolworth’s in Popular Culture

Woolworth’s has been featured in popular culture, although not as much as you would think. The Girl From Woolworth’s, circa 1929 sounds like a cute B movie. In 1982, there was Robert Altman’s Come Back to The Five and Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean which takes place in a decrepit Woolworth’s in a small Texas town. Here is a commercial that aired in the Chicago market in the late 1980s.

Come Back to the Five and Dime with Me

My love affair with Woolworth’s started out on a less than positive note at age 5, when I was caught red-handed with a large multi-colored balloon that I had stolen. While it only cost 2 cents, my dad made me take it back to the manager and apologize. As I recall, I received further punishment at home. This transgression occurred at the Woolworth’s on Michigan Avenue.

Woolworth's State Street 1950s

Woolworth's Doll Display

By the time I was 10, I was taking the bus by myself to downtown Chicago from Lincolnwood. How I loved going to the Woolworth’s on Michigan Avenue on the Gold Coast and later to the giant flagship store on State Street. My mom rarely gave me any money beyond what I needed for bus fare, but I managed to find spare change on the ground or sometimes brought my meager savings earned from returning Diet Rite bottles to the corner store.

I loved the counters and displays filled with delightful trinkets, and I fondly remember the turquoise and yellow parakeets chirping away in the pet section. I was so happy when I convinced my mom to buy me a bottle of cheap dime store perfume called Blue Waltz. It smelled pretty bad, but the shape of the bottle was so delightful that the sight of a bottle now produces pangs of childhood nostalgia.

Woolworth's Cosmetics

Shopping at Woolworth's

My older sister got her ears pierced and I bought her some really cute genuine pearl and gold-filled earrings for only $1.00. I recall that they had these center islands loaded with bargains like costume jewelry for a $1.00 or sometimes 2 for $1.00. I also remember that my older sister bought these little boxes of cone incense that she would burn in her bedroom. This ritual seemed so mystical to me, perhaps because she rarely let me go in her bedroom. I would sneak in there sometimes when nobody was home.

I bought grab bag stamp collections for $1.00 with huge, gorgeous, colorful stamps from faraway lands. I was also into beading and remember buying some cool metallic blue bugle beads and colorful sequins. I bought my little sister this awesome set of red plastic doll-size tea cups and saucers. When you poured water in the cups, a magical image appeared on the bottom. I think they were photos of movie stars. It seemed like a lot of merchandise was priced at just $1.00 and back then candy bars were ridiculously inexpensive. Come to think of it, Woolworth’s was the predecessor to today’s dollar stores that sell junk made in China, albeit far more magical.

Woolworth's Ad 1948

Woolworth's Christmas Ad

By the time I was 12, I would enjoy going to the basement at the Michigan Avenue store to browse through the bargain bin records. I bought a bunch of 45s, an album by The Strawberry Alarm Clock, and a more obscure album by The Monkees.

The Famous Lunch Counters

There is nothing quite as wonderful as eating at the Formica counter of a dime store cafeteria. I can recall the aroma of the hot dogs spinning around on the cooker and the macaroni and cheese. My favorite by far was this delicious Neapolitan ice cream sandwich. The ice cream was sandwiched between two thick wafers that had the taste and consistency of a waffle cone. These things were square and mammoth – at least that’s how I remember them. I took the last photo in 1975 and was taken aback when I saw the woman smoking at the counter – it feels to me now like this practice was never allowed.

Lunch Counter State Street 1940

Lunch Counter State Street 1960

Lunch Counter Chicago 1975

Providence Woolworth’s 

When I went off to RISD in 1976, I found myself walking around downtown Providence with some frequency. The Woolworth’s on Westminster Street did not have as much charm as the stores in Chicago, or perhaps it was just that I was older. I don’t really remember buying much at the Woolworth’s in Providence. I preferred an independent five and dime store in the Olneyville section of Providence that had an-old fashioned soda fountain and luncheonette.

FW Woolworth Providence

I wish I could turn back the clock and eat at a Woolworth’s luncheon counter. If I close my eyes and think about it hard enough, I can smell the aromas wafting from the grill. Unfortunately, time passes inevitably and with it, progress and change strips away childhood delights. However, I will always have memories of browsing the aisles and bins for wonderful trinkets to take home. If you have any fond Woolworth’s memories you would like to share, please leave a comment.

Woolworth's River Roads Mall


  1. I was a store manager for Woolworth and Lord knows they were the best years of my life. Oh how I miss the F.W. Woolworth Co!

    • Hi Andre – Thanks for writing – so interesting that you were a store manager at Woolworth. Where was your store and do you have any pictures you’d be willing to share?

    • My name is Susan
      My first job in Chicago was at Woolworth’s on Broadway and Wilson. As a health and beauty manager, my manager’s name was James Turner. Such a beautiful memory. I was so proud to work there.

  2. I remember those Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches so well. They were a huge treat. I wonder if there is anything comparable today! Everything came from Woolworths when I was young, and most Saturdays some time was spent at the lunch counter, even if just for a Coke. I miss those stores, I miss those days!

  3. Thanks for sharing these memories and images. I lived in downtown Chicago in the late 80’s. Does anyone know the date when the State Street store opened? – Thanks

    • Hi Joe: Glad you enjoyed this blog and thanks for posting. I found a photo of F.W. Woolworth’s flagship store in UIC’s archives that mentioned a date of 1890 for the store at 226 S State Street. I couldn’t confirm this was the date it opened, but perhaps someone else can. Since you lived downtown, you would also likely enjoy my blog about Randolph Street.

      • 1890 was probably Michigan Ave., built/opened before State Street. I have the original electrical meter from the State Street store and wanted to put a date on the meter. The meter was manufactured between 1904-1930. It may have been an upgrade.

        • Hi Joe: here is the link to the UIC photo. https://explore.chicagocollections.org/image/uic/26/nz81g6b/ I have no idea what the dates 1890-1970 reference – they are listed twice. The building itself looks like it is from the 1930s. Here is text from the book Remembering Woolworth’s: A Nostalgic History of the World’s Most Famous Five-and-Dime.

          “In 1912, the highest volume store was located on State Street in Chicago. The first Chicago store had been originally opened by Seymour Knox (Frank Woolworth’s protege) in the early 1900s and had been bringing in record sales ever since.”

          Very cool that you have the electrical meter.

  4. I was a Woolworth manager in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. What a great company it was back in the day!

  5. Does anyone remember if the counter-style restaurant that was in the lower level (basement) of the State Street Woolworth’s in Chicago had a name?

  6. I have pictures of all the Woolworth’s where I was an assistant and manager plus others on YouTube – see Jim Stoops life story. I was born across the road from James Dean in Fairmount, Indiana in 1939 – I will be 80-years-old on Saturday.

  7. It was a treat when my mom and I would have lunch at Woolworth’s. She would order the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and vegetables, and I would have the patty melt with fries. I wish that I could roll back time – my mom is no longer with me, but I’ll always treasure precious memories like that one.

  8. When I was little – every Saturday – my Mom would take me to Woolworth’s for a hot dog. We shopped at Fairfields for kitchen drapes as I recall. Miss and loved those days!

  9. Does anyone have pictures of the Woolworth on Pulaski and 26th, Chicago?

  10. Many years ago, Woolworth sold a chocolate soda/seltzer water cocoa-type drink – used to drink it in the 60’s. Does anyone know the name of it?

  11. We didn’t have money growing up, so we never went to downtown Chicago State Street to shop or even walk around. At age 18, I got a job at my neighborhood bank and I had some money to spare, so every Saturday afternoon I would take my mom on the El and head to State Street. Woolworth’s was always our first place to stop and eat lunch at the counter. My mom always had her favorite plate – a grilled cheese with fries, soup and coffee. Mine was a cheeseburger with fries and a drink.

    By their front window you could see the worker placing fresh slices of pizza on the rack, and what a delicious smell! A huge slice of pizza with a drink was $1.50, which we would get after shopping all day. What wonderful memories going to Woolworth’s to eat and shop with my mom . If only I could go back to 1979 and relive those moments.

    • Ralph Treggiari

      Ha Ha!

      Not Woolworth – ours never sold Pizza – too ethnic.

      But the pizza shop around the corner, late 60’s, sold LARGE CHEESE pizzas for 99 cents! For many years!!

    • Boy, I hear that – lol. Great post! I took my son all the time back in the 80s.

    • In the early 60’s, when I was between 10 and 12-years-old, I had a weekly doctor’s appointment and I would take the bus to downtown Chicago for my appointment. Afterwards, my favorite part of the trip was to go to Woolworth’s, sit at the lunch counter and have a slice of pizza and a drink. Very fond memories that I often think about!

    • Alberto Carrasco

      I too remember shopping with my mom all day and having that slice of pizza – great memories!!! Thank for taking me back in time!!!

  12. The Woolworth’s at 91st and Commercial Avenue in the South Chicago area had the best cheap pizza ever! They served it by the slice, and I can still remember how good that pizza smelled. Good ole days!

    • I remember Sally at the pizza counter on 91st Street. She was ALWAYS so sweet and friendly. Her pizza was AWESOME!!!

  13. I remember going to the Golf Mill Woolworth’s in Niles in the 60’s and early 70’s until we moved away. My grandma LOVED that store! She called it the “dime store” for obvious reasons – lol. I remember so many things about it…loved it all. Would love to go back to those carefree days when a dollar would buy a summers worth of fun with toys and trinkets.

    • Thanks for sharing your memories – Woolworth’s would be one of the first places I would visit if I could turn the clock back!

  14. My father was manager of three stores in the Chicago area and Melrose Park and Broadview, too. He went to Indianapolis for manager training. This all happened between 1945 and 1960. Is there a place where I can find dates, like when he was hired or transferred? Andrew

    • My Dad managed Woolworth stores in Chicago from 1947-1951. One was at 63rd and Cottage Grove. Does anyone remember any details about that store? I likewise would like to find out when he was transferred to another store.

  15. I was assistant manager at Woolworth in Jefferson Park Chicago before I went to Park Ridge and Lake Forest to open Woolworth stores. Then manager of Waukegan and DeKalb, followed by Michigan City, Indiana and Caro, Michigan. All this is in my life story under (Jim Stoops You Tube).

    • I used to shop and have lunch with my mom at the Jefferson Park Woolworths store in the late 60’s early 70’s. They had the best cheeseburger and strawberry shake at the lunch counter! Wish they were still around.

    • Katherine Haverty

      Hi! I used to go to Woolworths in Jefferson Park all the time, grew up there. I would get the chocolate phosphates with my friend Penny – loved it there.

  16. Colleen Martin

    Looking for a list of Woolworth locations in the 1950’s. My grandma worked the soda fountain and met my grandfather. Love to see photos from their counter.

  17. My uncle worked at F.W. Woolworth Chicago Distribution Center. I believe it was on Archer Ave. on the SW side of Chicago. Does anyone remember the exact intersection of that site? I believe they closed it down in the 1970’s.

  18. phillip matievic

    I remember going to downtown Chicago when I was a young boy and always ending up at the State Street Woolworth’s to watch Ron Popeil fast talk the crowds into buying his wares. I would stand there for about five or six shows before leaving. I was about 10 yrs. old so I didn’t have much money, but when Christmas came around I always bought whatever he was selling for my mother.

    Later in my late 40’s and 50’s, I sold wine at tastings and copied his style from the Woolworth days. I was almost always #1 even though I didn’t sell the big name wines. I have fond memories of Woolworth and Ron Popeil.

    • Hi Phillip – Thanks for your touching tribute to the State Street Woolworth’s and the late Ron Popeil ~ May 3, 1935 – July 28, 2021.

  19. Pamela Lawrence

    This Christmas is filled with memories of the visits to State Street from the suburbs, the basement cafeteria, cookies with a red cherry in the middle, the hustle and bustle of the beautiful season, Wieboldt’s, Marshall Fields, Sears, and Montgomery Wards. I am now much older but still so very emotionally attached to the wonderful times spent with my mother back then.

    • Very well said – your words brought back many fond memories for me of my mom taking us downtown to see the Christmas windows – and shopping at Woolworth, Marshall Fields, and Wieboldt’s.

  20. Matthew S Hess

    I was a manager of two stores – one in Oak Park on North and Austin; the other at Broadway and Sheridan.

  21. Yes, Woolworth was a very special place when I was young. Then as a teenager I worked behind the lunch counter at the Woolworth on 22nd Street and around Kedzie in Chicago. I loved to shop at Woolworth during Christmas and miss those days.

  22. Vickie Sullins Rogers

    My dad was a manager of Woolworth in Olney, Illinois, Clarksdale, Mississippi, New Orleans (also Woolco there). He met my mom in Memphis, Tennessee while she was working at the candy counter. He was the manager there also. They were married for 58 years.

  23. Holly Jackson

    In the 1950’s, my grandfather was the assistant manager at the Woolworth store at 20 N. State in Chicago. When the traditional Thanksgiving Day parade marched down State, we would enter the building through the freight entrance in the alley and take the elevator to the 6th floor so I had a magnificent view of everything and be cozy warm! Then he’d bring me down to the candy counter and I could choose my favorite sweet. Such wonderful memories!

    • So wonderful that your grandfather was an assistant manager at the flagship Chicago Woolworth store! I bet a lot of your friends were envious – what sweet memories.

  24. Life was so much simpler in those days. I remember visiting Woolworth’s on 14th St in NYC with my mom in the 50’s. It was always a treat to visit the pet department and the toy department. I remember the treasures I was once in a while able to purchase. And those Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches were the ultimate treat!

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