5 and 10 Cent or Dime Stores

F. W. Woolworth Store 1950s

Before the existence of commercial chain outlets, there were dime stores. The retail concept – also known as five-and-ten-cents stores – was the brainchild of Frank Woolworth in 1879. Woolworth had picked up valuable lessons while operating the 5-cent stores at the time and discovered a way to remove the wholesaler from the trading process. Murphy’s and Grants were soon on board, creating their own chain of dime stores. They sold everything from makeup to dresser scarves to small carpets and even clothing and fabric for sewing.

Dime stores were extremely popular with the poorer early migrants in America since they stocked a great variety of items sold at a low cost. Warehousing, material fees, and overhead costs were carefully reduced to allow dime businesses to sustain themselves despite offering significant discounts.

Popular items sold in dime stores include Christmas ornaments, shoes and toys, which provided something for each member of the family. Woolworth eventually introduced lunch counters in its shops, which was made memorable in North Carolina when African Americans staged a sit-in at the local lunch counter, demanding service from the staff.

Other popular dime store brands include Murphy’s & Grants and the concept remained a success through the 1970 and even into the 80s.

Unfortunately, with the economical shift, changes in consumer behavior and price inflation, the concept of dime stores was gradually threatened and superseded by upcoming discount and dollar stores such as K-Mart, (formerly S.S. Kresge) and Walmart.

In 1997, Woolworth shut its final dime store, with over a hundred years of illustrious history.

Alternate retail avenues were beginning to attract the customers that once flocked the dime stores, leading to the demise of the business concept while dollar stores stepped up to become the dime stores of the 21st century.

Woolworth’s Annual Record Sale, 1971

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