By Barry Horn...
One of America’s greatest entrepreneur stories is about F. W. Woolworth. Born in Rodman, New York in 1852, died Glen Cove, New York 1919. His story is quite remarkable. He began F.W. Woolworth Co. from humble beginnings in 1879. Frank Winfield Woolworth filled a need. He created a store where everybody felt rich. It was his secret of success. Woolworth became known as the Merchant Prince.
“He won a fortune,” commented the New York Sun, “not in showing how little could be sold for much, but how much could be sold for little.”
Woolworth was known as everybody’s store, the place you could find almost anything. Most Americans were likely introduced to Woolworth as kids. With allowance in hand, they would wander up and down the aisles, checking out the sweet treats at the candy counter, and that wonderful toy department. Many children remember buying a goldfish, a green turtle, or a blue parakeet at Woolworth’s pet department.
Teenagers found Woolworth a place of fascination. It was the store for hair tonic, make-up, lipstick, 45-records, angora for rings, posters of movie stars, and the lunch counter for meeting their friends after school.
For grown-ups, Woolworth had an endless supply of merchandise. If they needed something to keep a household running smoothly, they could find it and afford it at Woolworth.
Senior citizens found Woolworth a great place for an outing with their grandchildren. A perfect way to give a reward for being well behaved with a special purchase. Seniors gathered with their friends at the lunch counter for a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
For all the holidays, Woolworth was the place to shop. Budget-minded families and shoppers could always use the layaway plan.
Not only was Woolworth a fun place to shop, but also a fun place to work. Some of us, myself included, had a job at the local Woolworth store. The company employed thousands of stockroom boys, cashiers, sales clerks, and counter girls. In my sophomore year of high school, I was hired as “the clean-up boy” at the Park Shopping Center store in Springfield, Ohio. Eight years, seven stores, and four cities later, I was the store manager in Lima, Ohio.
From F.W. Woolworth Co. beginning in 1879, expansions came about over the years. Woolworth introduced the Woolco stores in 1962. Also, it acquired Kinney Shoes and Richman Brothers. In 1970, the addition of the Footlocker stores. By 1979, Woolworth owned or had a majority interest in more than 4,000 stores, over 200,000 employees. It seemed the boom would never end, but nineteen years later, every Woolworth store in America and Canada was closed.
How did this happen? The details are only known to a few corporate insiders. Gone...but Woolworth will never be forgotten.
If you remember certain things about Woolworth or worked there and wish to contact the writer Barry Horn, send your message to or regular mail: On a Mission Magazine, ℅ Barry Horn, Box 49, Tremont City, OH 45372
Five and Ten: The Fabulous Life of F. W. Woolworth - by John K. Winkler