Woolworth’s, the beloved “five-and-dime” store that had just about anything you could ever need, faded into history more than 20 years ago — but the discount chain remains beloved by most Queens residents fortunate enough to have shopped there.
At the height of its popularity, the arrival of a new Woolworth’s store in an American neighborhood was celebrated as a boon for the local business strip. This was the sentiment expressed on the front page of the July 24, 1969, issue of the Ridgewood Times — published four days after man walked on the Moon — which covered the grand opening of a Woolworth’s in Ridgewood.
Actually, it was the second Woolworth’s store to open in the neighborhood; the first one opened in the 1930s at 57-37 Myrtle Ave. Both stores would be in simultaneous operation for more than 25 years.
Before Walmart, Target and Amazon ruled the consumer roost, Woolworth’s was the place to shop. At one point, the chain had hundreds of stores from coast to coast, offering everything from hardware to housewares, clothing to cosmetics, toys to televisions. If that wasn’t enough and all that shopping made you hungry, chances are your local Woolworth’s had a lunch counter where you could get a cheeseburger and a milkshake, or just a sandwich and a coffee, for an affordable price.
The July 24 front page of the Ridgewood Times chronicled the July 17 grand opening of the new Woolworth’s store located at 54-32 Myrtle Ave. It included a photo of the ribbon-cutting attended by store employees, local elected officials and other dignitaries, including Congressman Frank Brasco, Assemblywoman Rosemary Gunning, state Senator Martin Knoll, Ridgewood Times publisher Carl Clemens and editor Dorsey Short.
Below the photo was a picture of shoppers outside of the Woolworth storefront; the caption noted that thousands “flocked to the new store to admire its fine layout, variety and excellence of merchandise offered.” The shop featured two levels, including a “fine cafeteria,” and was located a short walk from the Myrtle-Wyckoff Avenues subway stations.
Short explained the importance of Woolworth’s arrival to Ridgewood in an editorial titled “Welcome Woolworth’s!” included on the front page (at the time, the paper ran its editorials on the front page every week).
“Before deciding on the location, Woolworth’s considered the area, the market, the potential needs. Before deciding what to put in its displays, Woolworth’s sampled the needs of potential customers in Greater Ridgewood,” he wrote. “The result is the fine Ridgewood Store which is fast gaining friends in the area.”
One week before, in the July 17 issue of the Ridgewood Times, Woolworth’s advertised its grand opening with a two-page advertisement. To attract shoppers, they held a television raffle and included in the ad a coupon for customers to enter a contest for a chance to win a free puppy.
The Woolworth’s ad also included sales for assorted jewelry at 2 for $3; machine washable chenille slippers for 97 cents a pair; table lamps with “elegant ceramic bases” at 2 for $10; five boxes of facial tissues for $1; a 3-pound box of Heritage cookies for $1.77; and assorted aluminum ware for $1.99 a piece. (Amazing how far a dollar went back in 1969!)
It’s not surprising that Woolworth’s chose the Ridgewood Times to advertise its grand opening. But what may surprise some readers is that other businesses took out ads in the July 17 issue to congratulate Woolworth’s for opening shop in Ridgewood.
Selinger’s Showrooms, offering “the finest in furniture at the lowest possible prices” at 55-05 Myrtle Ave., took out a half-page ad to extend “a sincere welcome to its new neighbor Woolworth contributing to the growth of Ridgewood-Glendale, Maspeth & Middle Village.” Ridgewood Hall, a German food store located at 1880 Menahan St., also took out an ad welcoming Woolworth’s.
At that point in time, the city was suffering the effects of urban renewal, and the flight of the middle class to the suburbs. Neighborhoods were seeing dropping property values and long-time businesses closing up shop.
Woolworth’s arrival in Ridgewood was seen as the proverbial shot-in-the-arm, a business helping to keep alive the local shopping strip — and the neighborhood vibrant and prosperous.
New York City would undergo tremendous economic turmoil in the 1970s that would, unfortunately, force many small businesses in Ridgewood and other communities to close or move out. Woolworth’s managed to survive that upheaval, but into the late 1980s and 1990s, it could not survive the increased competition from nationwide chains.
Two rounds of closures, in 1993 and 1997, doomed the Woolworth’s chain; many of the locations were converted into Foot Locker athletic apparel stores. Today, the Woolworth’s at 54-32 Myrtle Ave. is now a Kids City clothing store and a mattress supplier; the former shop at 57-37 Myrtle Ave. is now The Children’s Place clothing store.
We wonder if any of our readers can remember shopping at the Woolworth’s in Ridgewood or other parts of Queens. If you do, feel free to share them on Facebook or email us, and we may feature your remarks in an upcoming article.
Of course, as you can see, while the Woolworth’s story figured prominently on the cover of the July 24, 1969, Ridgewood Times, the top story was the impending discontinuation of the Myrtle Avenue El — an extension of the Myrtle Avenue Line that reached Downtown Brooklyn. We’ll have more information about that in next week’s column.
Share your history with us by emailing [email protected] (subject: Our Neighborhood: The Way it Was) or write to The Old Timer, ℅ Ridgewood Times, 38-15 Bell Blvd., Bayside, NY 11361. Any mailed pictures will be carefully returned to you upon request.