The Five and Dime

For Christmas my brother and sister-in-law gave me a book entitled Good Poems, which are the poems that Garrison Keillor selects and reads on his NPR program, The Writer’s Almanac.  This morning I read a poem called “Woolworth’s” by Mark Irwin, and it brought back memories  of our five and dime store in the middle of Fairfield Center in Connecticut.  On Saturdays I would go with my parents to the center.  While my mother went to the stationery or Trudy’s, the women’s dress shop, and my father went to the hardware store, I would wander into the five and dime, my allowance burning a hole in my pocket.

What a marvelous place!  At the back of the store, the first place I’d run was the menagerie of  parakeets, turtles, hamsters, and little white mice.  (I always wanted a mouse but had to settle for a turtle.)  There were beautiful bolts of fabric and tables with stacks of pattern books.  I’d sit at one of the tables and search through the books, daydreaming of how a certain outfit would look if my grandmother made it for me.

Though I looked at everything in the store each time I went in, only two things were slated to take my money from me:  animal crackers and “fine” jewelry.  Yes, I had a penchant for flashy gold and ruby or emerald rings, the kind that had the adjustable bands that fit three times around my tiny finger and turned it green, and the sparkly glass that lost its luster after a few turns making mud pies.  And the animal crackers?  I wasn’t even fond of them, but I liked the circus wagon box they came in, and I loved seeing my brother’s delighted face when I gave him the cookies inside.  He was rather frugal with his money and never would have bought them for himself.  Why should he, when his sister was always so willing to provide?

Yes, we have dollar stores today, but they can’t hold a candle to the old five and dimes.  Those old stores were neat and orderly, like the sales women in their starched white blouses and pencil-straight skirts.  The glass counters were cleaned of fingerprints and the imprint of little noses pressed up against the glass as eager faces perused the merchandise behind them.  They were part of the Saturday magic with Mom and Dad in the center of town.

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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31 Responses to The Five and Dime

  1. Loved this. We were lucky to live right in the center of town in Freeport and could walk or ride our bikes to the old five and dime Leighton’s store on Main Street. Penny candy and fountain drinks! Great memories. What’s interesting (and I admit, sad) is that store caught fire when I was around 11 years old and after it burned down the very first outlet moved into town (across from L.L. Bean’s) Now of course, Freeport is Outlet City.

    • Coming East says:

      Love that little town of Freeport, though I’ve only seen it when all the outlets had already come to town. I liked that you could get lobster sandwiches at the McDonald’s there.

  2. You just so aptly described a typical Saturday in my childhood too! Such fond memories of going to the five and dime store. I still remember those hardwood floors, the pet department (where I got my two tiny little pet turtles), and the candy and nut counters. Oh, what a sight! I was one lucky girl, though, my oldest sister worked there after school and on Saturdays, so she used to bring me treats from the store. Thanks for reminding me of those days!

  3. Leah says:

    Oh what I wouldn’t give to find a cool 5-and-dime store like that now. I love finding treasures at thrift shops. Imagine all the great stuff in those stores. Makes me smile.

    • Coming East says:

      Those dollar stores can’t hold a candle to the old five and dimes. It’s as if no one takes pride in their stores anymore. Just because you sell very inexpensive things doesn’t mean your store has to be a mess.

  4. E.C. says:

    I miss the five and dimes stores. There was one in every little town around us. It was the main place my folks shopped for so many things (okay my Dad hung out at Co-op while we shoped at the 5 & 10 lol) I had several turtles in youth that I saved my pennies & nickles to buy. The pet area was my favorite next too the toy isle. Thanks for sharing your pleasant memories of such a special place that I wish we still had today. 🙂

  5. pattisj says:

    We didn’t have a Woolworth in our small town, but GC Murphy was similar to what you describe.

  6. You’re right about the charms of the old Five and Dimes. There’s nothing quite like them, or like the real diners and the real black & white shakes they made. This post brought back lovely memories of time spent with my grandmother in places like that. But I’m surprised you didn’t like animal crackers! I STILL love those things!

  7. My sister from VA came for Thanksgiving to my mother’s not far away. As we pulled out dishes, bowls, etc. for our feast we came across “Herbie’s bowl.” Herbie was a turtle we got from the local 5 and dime. He lived a good while in that bowl and we enjoyed him so much. Great memories triggered from that poem, Susan.

  8. Huffygirl says:

    What great memories this brought back Susan. I never go in dollar stores because the cheap and tacky atmosphere is nothing like the good old five and dimes!

  9. Wow!! You triggered some memories… W.T. Grant was the local five and dime. I also loved to watch the parakeets, and I did have one… you can have the rodents! The fine jewels for me were “pop-it beads.” You could snap them together and build your own jewelry. My right brain then took me to memories of “soda fountain” cherry cokes – custom mixed. How sad that younger generations will most likely not have that memory as a constant in their childhood. I’m looking at a fresh 3″ of snow on top of the 7″ from last week, and a beautiful sunny day… thanks for the warm fuzzy memories!!

    • Coming East says:

      Pop-it beads! I’d completely forgotten, Carol. Thanks for reminding me of something else I loved. No snow here yet, but sometimes we never even get a flake in this part of Virginia.

  10. winsomebella says:

    You remind me how exciting it was to go to Woolworth’s. Not anything like the dollar stores of today……….

  11. I miss the old 100 peseta stores of my childhood holidays and good old Woolworths. 🙂

  12. Dor says:

    We called it The Five & Ten Cents Store. We had a Woolworths too, and your post brought back so many memories like Tangee lipstick that really had little color (not allowed to wear lipstick until age 16). I think Tangee is still around. Our store even had a lunch counter with twirling stools and great breakfasts. 🙂 You have brought back wonderful memories.

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks, Dor. All of us “of an age,” remember some time of five and dime. And yes, the Vermont Country Store still sells Tangee lipstick. I remember it well. It was supposed to turn a different color on every person.

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  14. Amy says:

    You story is taking me back to my sentimental moments…
    Thank you, Susan!

  15. Big Al says:

    A nice reminiscence, Susan. My memories are of the Woolworth in New Haven. It was the only store around when I was a little boy that had an escalator. Wow, what a time I had on that thing. I remember that, even though it was mechanical, the stairs were wooden. Great memories but a reminder of how ancient I am.

  16. kd sullivan says:

    What lovely memories you write of here…I love it when you do memoir pieces…

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