Signs of the Times #11: Vintage Retail

Does anyone who is reading this post remember the “dime store?” If you do, you are, like I, of a certain age, and that age is of another era, the era of “brick and mortar” store experiences. I grew up in the Midwest, in Chicago, Illinois, and in the mid-20th century, neighborhoods still had “corner grocery stores” literally small retail food and convenience-type stores at the end of your block where you lived.

What has prompted this posting is a reflection on the evolution of F.W. Woolworth®’s from a “five and  dime” store (literally five cents to 10 cents U.S.) to the Footlocker® athletic wear retailer that exists today.

The “five and dime” era was before Wal-Mart®, pre-Internet, pre-Amazon®. Actually, Wal-Mart (Sam Walton) opened its first store in 1950 ( see

woolworth-1 woolworth-2

This is what a typical Woolworth’s looked like in the 1950’s.  There was a “soda fountain” with a counter and stools to sit down. Boy, I unfortunately spent many a “dime” plus gained many a calorie eating chocolate cream pie at one of these counters. And, for amusement, my sister and I would read the greeting cards, would you believe! But we did… all the funny ones. Hallmark® did have some funny greeting cards. This was before iPhones and video games you see. Kids amused themselves with simpler things.

Another grand memory is the sensory experience of smelling the aroma of the Hillman®’s food department  while descending down the Sears escalator to in the basement of the “6-corners store” in Chicago, IL, where the Hillman’s was located. Oh, wow, the smell of baked goods, delicatessen, and other food items was an assault on your five senses but a treat as well. It was difficult not to purchase some of the culinary treats available and from the crowds of people who made purchases there, Hillman’s was more than doing the weekly grocery shopping, it was a shopping experience!  Here’s a quote about Hillman’s from a site that is devoted to all things about vintage Chicago:


“Forgotten Chicago helped the landmark Sears store at 6 Corners celebrate its 75th anniversary with two exclusive tours on Sunday, October 13, 2013. These sold-out tours offered guests behind-the-scenes access to one of the largest extant department stores in the Midwest, in FC’s first tour to focus on a single building. Led by Dale Harris, a Sears contract employee since the late 1960s and the head of the store’s 75th anniversary celebrations, a tour highlight was a visit inside the store’s massive two-story former display window at the corner of Milwaukee, Cicero and Irving Park, seen inside and out above center. This tour also included a trip down the store’s grand Art Deco “marble staircase” that has been sealed off for decades, back-of-the-house stockroom and employee functions, and remnants of the former Hillman’s grocery store that operated in the store’s lower level from 1938 to 1967.”  See site:

What is notable in the year 2016 is that, the Internet retail juggernaut, the “Wal-Mart” of the digital age has decided to open “brick and mortar” stores!  See New York Times:

Amazon is also offering proprietary delivery services using their own trucks (I’ve seen their delivery vans a few times in my neighborhood). Amazon over the last several years has built distribution centers to warehouse the inventories of their “pro-sellers’ ” merchandise. Sure smells like “traditional” retail to me. Oh, and of course, their original Internet-based business model was the traditional Sears®, Montgomery Ward®, and J.C. Penney®  stores’ mail order catalogs taken from print catalog space to digital  catalog “space”. Of course, Wards is “history” and out-of-business; Sears is still around but dying a very slow and painful death, and J.C. Penney has re-invented its stores again and again, currently it seems to be surviving.

I use the Internet to shop and comparison-shop as others now do.  I’m an “old school” shopper too, I like to feel the merchandise, check the “out of code” date, see the condition of the item BEFORE I buy it.  I miss having a salesperson to talk to in the department; I do like to make the purchase and take it home with me.

I don’t know who said it first… “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” But I’ll repeat it. Some will say nostalgia is for old people. Well, I may be “older” but my memories are not just nostalgia. Unfortunately, societal negative activities such as “front porch pirates” about which I have written previously, are bringing some cultural traditions full-circle such as the return of brick and mortar retail stores.

We may have cyber-space but it can’t take the place of physical space entirely or “forever”; unintended consequences such as the above “pirates” are constantly “re-writing” our lives. Funny thing about “re-writes”, I’ve discovered that I don’t like being “edited.”  I want “retail” to survive.  I like having choices. I don’t want my purchases stolen from my front porch.

A motto from the Chicago department store Marshall Field’s ®  was “give the lady what she wants.”  Another was “the customer is always right”, see site: Unfortunately, Marshall Field’s department store no longer exists. Field’s was sold to Macy’s®.

I guess what I want is a return to the retail environment of the 1950’s, and, of course, that won’t happen; at least not in my lifetime probably, but I wish happy and safe shopping to everyone.


11 thoughts on “Signs of the Times #11: Vintage Retail

  1. Hi,
    Interesting post. I right about changing times too. I remember the five and dime store. I did not know that about Woolworths and Footlocker.
    Congratulations on being Danny Ray’s featured blogger. I was his featured blogger too.
    Maybe you can check out my blog if you needed a blogging tip or two. That’s what I write about.


  2. How times change! Although I live in Mexico, I have also lived in the USA and I have noticed that big chain stores dominate every commercial sector. The funny thing is, here in Mexico, there’s a lot of mom and pop businesses and corner grocery stores in every city and town. Around the corner from my house, there’s a corner store where you can buy almost anything you need, and where the neighbors gather to gossip and the kids go there to spend their allowance on candy and ice-cream. Even in such a huge place like Mexico City, these little corner shops make a familiar space where people can gather and be a community. I don’t know if these small businesses are good for the economy or not, but they sure are good for the neighborhood.
    Congrats on being one of Danny’s featured bloggers!
    -Fabi at My Heart Of Mexico


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s