On May 29, 2024

Remembering the Woolworth store

Rutland City back in the ‘50s had three stores that could be considered “variety stores.” They were well known “chain stores” namely F. W. Woolworth, M.H. Fishman and SS Kresge. They were located just doors away from one another on Merchants Row.

Of the three variety stores F.W. Woolworth was my mother’s favorite. We often shopped there on a Saturday morning. I think my mother favored that store over the other variety stores because of its back entrance. She was not a fan of parallel parking and there was a parking lot near the rear entrance. Thus, our shopping always began at the back end of the store.

The locals called the store “Woolworth’s” so I will refer to it that way. I think it’s safe to say that if Woolworth’s didn’t have a particular item you probably didn’t need it anyway. You could buy such things as towels, sheets, pots and pans, flowers, records, some clothing items and even goldfish, turtles and parakeets. I purchased a few goldfish over the years. They came home in a plastic bag and happily swam around in a glass bowl in our kitchen.

Since Woolworth’s was “one stop shopping” you were often in there for quite a long time. When you needed a break you headed to the soda fountain where you could sit on a stool and enjoy a sundae or ice cream soda. Those were the days!

Woolworth’s was a special place at Easter time. My friend, Barbara, and I would head downtown on Good Friday at 3 p.m. when the stores re-opened after being closed from 12-3 p.m. Barbara was the oldest of five siblings and with my only-child status I was fascinated by the list of items for Easter that her mother asked us to get. Most of them were available at Woolworth’s. The list included such items as: socks, a tie, a white shirt, an Easter hat and corsages for all the girls. There was a section in the front of the store where corsages were made to order and dyed in a color to match an Easter outfit. It was quite the experience!

To get back to the topic of Woolworth’s pets…my friend, Betty, bought a blue parakeet there with her allowance. Now that I look back her allowance must have been a lot more than mine as she also needed a cage and food. But we got it all and carried everything home which was a distance of about a mile.

Another friend, Debby, bought a turtle which I think was actually a pet she jointly owned with me. The turtle lived at her house until she went to summer camp and then it resided at my house. It had a cute little bowl with a ramp so it could get out of the water. When the turtle was in my care I remember pouring milk from a carton over its shell because someone told me that a “milk bath” was good for turtles. I just looked online and found out that was not a good idea! There was no internet in the ‘50s thus no way to confirm that advice. I may have contributed to its early demise!

When you shopped in Woolworth’s a gentleman who looked very strict walked throughout the store. You could tell that he was an authority figure and was probably looking for shoplifters. His name was Vern Richards and about 30 years later he and I had offices next to one another at City Hall. I told him that my friends and I were a little frightened of him and were on our best behavior when we were in the store. He told me that meant he was doing his job well because young people sometimes needed to be “kept in line.” The “adult me” found him to be a kind man with a great sense of humor.

Woolworth’s is associated with a special feature at Christmas time that could be enjoyed from the outside. You couldn’t miss Santa in his sleigh being pulled by reindeer. The display was strung across Merchants Row from the Rutland County National Bank to Woolworth’s. It was quite the sight from the eyes of a child. The store was our go-to place for Christmas decorations, especially tinsel icicles for our tree. All Christmas items were in the back of the store so they were our last purchase. There was a cash register by the back door where my mother paid for all our items before we headed back to the parking lot.

Woolworth’s had something for all ages and all needs. There are happy memories as I think about how fun it was to go there.

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