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HISTORY LIVES: Woolworth’s “Five-and-Dime.”


The first successful “Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store” opened in Lancaster in 1879 and, later, in successive Pennsylvania cities and beyond. (By 1904, there were six chains of affiliated stores operating in the United States and Canada.)

On July 21, 1933, F.W. Woolworth celebrated the opening of its Doylestown five-and-dime store with live music, a lunch counter, and bargains attractive to Depression-era shoppers. The site was so successful that in 1952 a new expansion more than doubled its capacity, creating the largest Woolworth store in Bucks County with a 77-foot frontage on South Main Street. The new store had no columns or posts on the sales floor and several new departments were added, all illuminated with modern lighting.

Another renovation in 1983 included upgrading the quality and variety of merchandise and creating a race-track aisle system which caused the customer to go around the store rather than in a straight line from front to back. There was new paint on the walls, more display space, and a refreshed façade.

For nearly 10 more years Woolworth’s remained a friendly, downtown presence until the chain fell victim to strip malls, mega-malls and big box stores like Walmart and Kmart. Nearly 2,000 Woolworth stores nationwide were closed or were scheduled for closure by late 1992, including Doylestown’s.

Today that 6,000 square feet of retail space is occupied by Gap, which moved into 17-25 S. Main St. during the summer of 1993.

Sources: Philadelphia Inquirer 11/1/1992; The Doylestown Intelligencer 6/6/1952

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