Classic Five-and-Dime Stores From Yesterday and Today

Sprouse-Reitz Store

Sprouse-Reitz Store by Phillip Pessar (CC BY)

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Sprouse-Reitz Store
Sprouse-Reitz Store by Phillip Pessar (CC BY)

Everything You Need, Everything You Remember

When Woolworth's declared bankruptcy back in 1997, it marked the symbolic end of an era when beloved "five and dime" stores could be found in every big city and small town in America. No matter what you needed, it could probably be found at the local Woolworth's, Ben Franklin, Grant's, or similar variety store on Main Street. Here we take a look at those bygone favorites that have closed their doors, as well as some stalwarts that carry on the tradition.  

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Old Woolworth's Department Store, Greensboro, NC
Old Woolworth's Department Store, Greensboro, NC by Warren LeMay (CC BY-SA)

Yesterday: F.W. Woolworth Co.

Frank Woolworth opened his first five-and-dime store in Utica, New York, in 1879. By the time he inaugurated his monumental headquarters in New York City in 1913 — at the time, the tallest building in the world — the company had more than 500 stores nationwide. When Woolworth's celebrated its centennial, it had more than 2,200 outlets and had launched the Foot Locker athletic shoe chain. But the 1980s and '90s weren't kind to dime stores in general, and in 1997 Woolworth's closed the last 400 of its stores. The former Woolworth's in Greensboro, N.C., (pictured) is on the National Register of Historic Places for being the site in 1960 of some of the first civil rights lunch-counter sit-in protests. 

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A.Schwab Trading Co.
Helene S./Yelp

Today: A.Schwab Trading Co.

Memphis, Tennessee
Schwab's has been open for business on Beale Street in Memphis since 1876, when French immigrant Abraham Schwab founded it. Over the decades, Schwab's has become a city landmark, as well as a living museum of sorts. You'll find a small trove of objects from Beale Street's colorful past upstairs, and there's also a soda fountain where you can sip something sweet. Don't forget to pick up an Elvis or Beale Street souvenir, too!

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Butler Bros building, Crawford Street, 1967
Butler Bros building, Crawford Street, 1967 by Dunedin City Council Archives (CC BY)

Yesterday: Butler Bros.

George and Edward Butler opened their first store in Boston in 1877, but it was largely a mail-order business until the 1920s when the company expanded its bricks-and-mortar operations with its Scott and L.C. Burr stores. But it was their Ben Franklin retail franchise, founded in 1927, that is perhaps Butler Bros.' greatest dime-store legacy. At its peak, there were some 2,500 Ben Franklins nationwide, but by the time Ben Franklin Stores declared bankruptcy 1996, only about 860 were left. Today, a handful still exist. Butler Bros. itself faded out in the 1960s. 

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The Original Ben Franklin Store
Anthony L./Yelp

Today: The Original Ben Franklin Store

Lavallette, New Jersey
You can still find Ben Franklin stores here and there, although you have to search harder than you would have a generation ago. This Ben Franklin has been family-owned since 1948. "Your everything store at the Jersey Shore," as the print ads say, sells supplies for a beach outing, plus fun toys, and even occasional artwork by local artists. The Facebook page offers a glimpse of other goodies you can find there.  

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Everett, James. [W. T. Grant Company], photograph, August 1951
Everett, James. [W. T. Grant Company], photograph, August 1951 by Port Arthur Public Library (CC BY)

Yesterday: W.T. Grant Co.

Grant's distinguished itself as a "25-cent store," implying a classier degree of retail than your average dime store. At its peak in the 1960s, there were more than 1,000 W.T. Grant Co. and Grant City stores operating. But by the mid-'70s, the company had imploded in what was the second-largest corporate bankruptcy to date. A few surviving Grant's stores have found new life, such as the W.T. Grant Lofts in Cleveland.

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Berdine's Five and Dime
S.H. Kress & Co.
The New York Historical Society/Contributor/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Yesterday: S.H. Kress & Co.

Samuel H. Kress wanted his dime stores to make a statement, so much so that he created a corporate division of architecture to make sure each retail location had a distinct design, be it gothic revival, art deco, or midcentury modern. The company changed hands in 1964 and again in 1981, this time to rival McCrory, which operated the remaining outlets until 2002. You can still find several elaborate Kress buildings in cities across the country, including in Asheville, North Carolina; Portland, Oregon; and Fort Worth, Texas. 

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Ashton 5¢ and 10¢ Store
Ashton's 5¢ and 10¢ Store- Carrollton, Ohio/Facebook

Today: Ashton's 5¢ and 10¢ Store

Carrollton, Ohio
John and Evelyn Ashton owned a number of Ben Franklin franchises, including this one in their hometown of Carrollton. After the Ashtons passed, their home was converted into a museum that offers a glimpse into their lives and the town's past. The store on West Main Street is still open as well, offering everything from crafting supplies to greeting cards.

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G.C.Murphy Lehighton, Pennsylvania Press Photo 1990
G.C.Murphy Lehighton, Pennsylvania Press Photo 1990 by Phillip Pessar (CC BY)

Yesterday: G.C. Murphy

East Coast, Midwest
George Clinton Murphy had already built one chain of dime stores (which he sold to F.W. Woolworth Co.) when he opened the first of his G.C. Murphy Co. stores in 1906 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Murphy's death a few years later nearly spelled the end of his retail chain. But two former McCrory executives took the helm and guided Murphy's back to fiscal health. A related chain of larger discount stores called Murphy's Mart was launched in 1976. In 1985, the company was bought out by Ames Department Stores.

Vidler's 5 & 10
Lisa M./Yelp

Today: Vidler's 5 & 10

East Aurora, New York
With more than 75,000 items spread over two levels, you never know what you may find at Vidler's, a sprawling store outside of Buffalo, New York, that claims to be the world's largest variety store. This family-run emporium has been around since 1930 and has become something of a local landmark thanks to the sometimes-corny series of TV commercials starring siblings Bob and Ed Vidler.

Photo of the Week – Oct. 7, 2018 – Mode O'Day
Photo of the Week – Oct. 7, 2018 – Mode O'Day by klamathmuseum (CC BY-NC-ND)

Yesterday: J.J. Newberry

John Josiah Newberry went into business for himself in 1911 — opening his store in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania — after years of working for five-and-dime titan Samuel Kress. The company grew from one store to more than 400 by the time it was acquired by rival McCrory Stores in 1972. Newberry's continued to operate until 2002, when its parent company folded.

Northville 5 and 10

Today: Northville 5 and 10

Northville, New York
Another contender for the bragging rights of oldest dime store in America, the Northville 5 and 10 opened for business in 1907 and relocated to its current address five years later. In 1931, it became a branch of J.J. Newberry's retailing empire and remained that way until 1997, when it was bought by its present owners and renamed yet again. Today, you'll find everything from souvenirs of the nearby Adirondack region to hardware and 250 different kinds of novelty candy for sale. 

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McCrory's store
McCrory's store by Infrogmation (CC BY)

Yesterday: J.G. McCrory's

East Coast, Midwest
Founded in Scottsdale, Pennsylvania, in 1882, McCrory Stores and its various subsidiaries had some 1,300 locations throughout the eastern and midwestern United States at its peak in the late 1980s. Yet, by 1992, the company had filed for bankruptcy, and it ceased operations a decade later. A former McCrory's in Rock Hill, South Carolina, was the site of some of the first sit-in protests of the civil rights movement in 1960.

Sine's 5 & 10
Sine's 5 & 10 Cent Store/Yelp

Today: Sine's 5 & 10

Quakertown, Pennsylvania
Howard Sine opened his five and dime in 1912 and moved the business to its current location in 1926. Today, the fifth generation of Sine's family is operating the store, which remains a fixture on West Broadway. Like any good dime store, Sine's operates a soda fountain, serving breakfast and lunch six days a week (and milkshakes, of course!). You'll also find aisles of sewing notions, household hardware, candy by the pound — even a special room dedicated to Christmas goods open year-round.

Duckwall's variety store photographed in Brush, Colorado, in 1991.
Duckwall's variety store photographed in Brush, Colorado, in 1991. by L.T. Hanlon (CC BY-SA)

Yesterday: Duckwall-ALCO

Central United States
A.L. Duckwall Sr. founded his first general store in 1901 in Abilene, Kansas. By 1960, he'd grown it into a chain of about 100 stores throughout the rural Plains states. The company expanded into more general retailing later that decade when it opened the first of its ALCO stores. A series of ill-advised financial decisions in the 1980s and '90s left the company hobbled. The Duckwall name vanished in 2011, and the remaining ALCOs filed for bankruptcy in 2014. You can find a great essay recalling Duckworth's glory days on the Kansas State Historical Society's website.

Sprouse-Reitz Store
Sprouse-Reitz Store by Phillip Pessar (CC BY)

Yesterday: Sprouse-Reitz

Western United States
This chain was founded in 1909 in Tacoma, Washington, and grew to a peak of about 400 stores in 11 Western states. To mark its 80th anniversary, the chain rebranded itself as "Sprouts!" but a new name couldn't reverse declining profits. By 1994, the last of the retailer's stores had been liquidated and the company was in bankruptcy.

Guerneville 5 and 10
Angelique L./Yelp

Today: Guerneville 5 and 10

Guerneville, California
The East Coast doesn't have a monopoly on old-school dime stores; you can find them out west if you know where to look. This shop in California's Russian River region has been around since 1949, supplying tourists and locals alike with sunscreen, towels, sewing notions, and yummy stuff to nibble on before they head out to explore more of Main Street and Guerneville.