The Five and Dime

If you are of a certain you remember going to five and dime stores.  This was before Wal-Mart and the death of the small town downtown, five and dime variety stores were on every Main Street in America.

5851d3fc9b7570b20a69e4ba26ef632cWoolworth, Duckwalls, Newberry’s Kress, Ben Franklin and many other stores sold inexpensive housewares, kitchen supplies, candies and toys to working families. These stores are long gone, out-played by Sam Walton. Most main street businesses never recovered as five and dimes and other local businesses couldn’t compete against the Wal-Mart behemoth.

These stores played a role in my childhood. Even when I was six or seven years old I could walk downtown, unaccompanied by an adult, and spent an hour browsing through the toys and other things that caught my eye. I might only have a nickel or dime, but I dreamed big.  They say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

In today’s world, no parent would let a kid walk anywhere by themselves. Those were very different times. In my youth, I was very independent, going all kinds of places, exploring everywhere I could get to. We lived a couple of blocks from downtown, so these places were easy traveling. When we moved to another town, further from shopping areas, I still walked on my own, or rode my bike. A wondering spirit even then.

If I had a shiny dime in my possession, it was burning a hole in my pocket as my mother said. I didn’t get a regular allowance, so money was hard to come by. That’s what made those coins so red-hot.

Ten cents didn’t buy much even then, but a kid could find lots of bargains anyway. I might have been tempted to buy a candy bar costing a nickel, but I wanted something that would give me hours of fun.

A couple of army men, a plastic airplane or caps for my cap gun. Choices, choices.

I looked at those green soldiers, held them in my hand, compared the different poses, but couldn’t decide. The fighter plane came in different versions, jet fighters or bombers. Again, tough choice. Army men, fighter planes or ammunition for cap guns. Anyone see a pattern here?

The first thing you notice entering one of these stores were the smells. Candy, tobacco products, perfume or the food cooked at the lunch counter. Many of those stores sold food or fountain drinks.  Working folks could get a patty melt or a hamburger.  A kid could get a soda or a milkshake. Lunch counters and soda fountains were common in drugstores too.

In the 1960’s, five and dimes and drugstores had a lot of what kids were interested in.  Candy, toys and school supplies. As a kid, it was just fun to look.  The grown-up world had a lot of Back then, our tastes weren’t as grand as they would become in time. Advertisers hadn’t completely taken over the minds of kids, but they were trying. Saturday mornings, cereal and toy manufacturers targeted kids with flashy toys and sugar-laden cereals with prizes in the boxes.

Five and dimes were sometime called dimestores for short.  In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, consumer purchasing power was rising for many, but working families looked for value and bargains. The American Dream was still alive and many families could get by with one income.   Women were a small percentage of the workforce, but that would begin changing. Life was different as were social norms.  We tend to romanticize the distant past, view only the memories we hold dear, and overlook things that were not positive or attitudes that were prevalent but do not represent our thinking today.

Walking down any main street in America can be an interesting phenomenon today. Many small towns have vacant structures and barely any businesses.  For many reasons, businesses shifted to highways and suburban locations, deserting main street.  Visiting small towns of my past is a distressing sojourn. The downtowns are ghost towns, empty except for a few restaurants, bars and professional offices.  The largest industry for many downtowns are flea markets or antique stores. How fitting is that?

There are still discount stores today, aside from Wal-Mart, there are dollar stores and regional store chains, and the giant drugstore chains.  There is nothing like the five and dime stores, it has gone the way of home delivered milk.


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