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The last Woolworth Store

The year was 1997 and the retail giant, Woolworths, Master of the Five and Dime, the inspiration behind all the others who have come since; Wal Mart, Target, Home Depot, Costco, was closing its last store in the United States. It was located on Broad Street in Globe, Arizona and had been a fixture of the community since 1916.

Originally built as a grand two-story building worthy of it’s place as one of the captains of American capitalism the Globe store was reduced to one story when a fire broke out on the upper floor in 1935 and destroyed the second floor. It was then that the Art Deco front was added with the distinctive tile work and architectural details of that era.

During the close-out sales, Kip Culver, the Main Street Director, purchased the iconic baskets which Woolworth used in all their stores. They were lightweight, rectangular tin “buckets” with a cloth handle and covered in cheery striped cloth. Just the right size for narrow aisles and a plethora of small items.

You can find them now perched in a corner downstairs, where Molly Cornwell manages and owns The White Porch Gifts and Antiques. Here they once again are put to good use by shoppers.

 

Molly Cornwell, owner of the White Porch Gifts and Antiques has ties to Woolworth. Her grandfather was the CEO of Woolworths empire from 1946 - 1954.  Here she and Kip show off the signature 'baskets' which came out of the Globe store in 1977 when it closed.
Molly Cornwell, owner of the White Porch Gifts and Antiques has ties to Woolworth. Her grandfather was the CEO of Woolworths empire from 1946 – 1954.
Here she and Kip show off the signature ‘baskets’ which came out of the Globe store in 1977 when it closed.

Molly’s Shop is a fitting landing place for anything Woolworth-memorabilia related, considering her family history. Molly is the great-granddaughter of both F.W. Woolworth’s 5th President (paternal, paternal), and the West-coast district manager (paternal, maternal). Alfred L. Cornwell presided over the empire from 1946 to 1954, during which time Robert W. Weber presided over the fastest growing district stretching from the Rockies,West. Story handed down that these two hard-working men were fierce company adversaries, but were united (against all forbidding) in family, when their two only children fell in love and eloped. These two were Molly’s grandparents hence the true-life love story and both the inherited & collected F.W. Woolworth’s memorabilia.

The real life story of Frank Woolworth and the 118 year dynasty which he established is well researched and written about in the book, “ Remembering Woolworth’s” by Karen Plunkett Powell. She tells the story of a young store clerk who was failing miserably as a sales clerk, when asked by the store owner to do a window display out of some new fabric which came in. Frank threw himself into the project, scrubbing every bit of glass and wood until it shined and laying out a bright bolt of red fabric with gold ribbon and bobbins.

                                    The effect was so stunning, the store had record sales that day, and Woolworth discovered his true calling. Merchandising.

The Woolworth Building in New York was the tallest building in the city when it was built.
The Woolworth Building in New York was the tallest building in the city when it was built.

 

From this humble beginning Frank Woolworth went on to build one of the most successful retail empires of it’s day. In England,where they were known as “Woolies” customers broke down in tears and staged protests when the stores began closing in the late ’80’s. The great empire had prospered through five wars, the Great Depression and social upheval at home and abroad. Frant Woolworth’s business acumen has been studied by the best in the business and in many ways provided a blue print of how to conduct business today for the big box discount houses.

Frank Woolworth died in 1919, just 3 years after the Globe store opened. Turns out the only will he left was one written in 1890 leaving everything to his wife Jennie. Although he’d had a new will drawn up many years later, he never signed it, and when he died, Jennie was incompetent. It would take years to clear up the confusion.

 

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The old Woolworth's building is now better known as United Jewelry.  A beam in the basement of that shop acknowledges the reign of Woolworth's in the local area.
The old Woolworth’s building is now better known as United Jewelry.
A beam in the basement of that shop acknowledges the reign of Woolworth’s in the local area.

 

The man had nearly $30 million in personal property, and owned 25% of Woolworth stock estimated at around 13 million. Not to mention he owned the iconic Woolworth Building out right. (The Woolworth Building had many firsts of it’s kind including: Yet, he did not appear to be a wealthy many when it came to family. His children – raised on a five and dime fortune- were neither frugal or good with money. They provided tabloids with a steady stream of juicy material about lavish lifestyles and messy divorces. (Barbra Hutton – the woman who was called one of the richest women in the world- and one of the unhappiest- was part of the Woolworth dynasty).

 

It would be some of the original founders and Board members who would oversee the expansion of the Woolworth stores until the name “ was known all over the world.”

 Advice from the king of retail

In an interview shortly before his death in 1919, a young reporter asked him to summarize the secret of his success. He came up with seven business tips which he had lived by. Nearly hundred years later they still resonate:

 

1: Of course you will be discouraged. But keep on.

2: If you believe in an idea, give it a chance. Some of my first stores failed because I placed them in the wrong part of town. There’s always a right location. Find it.

3: Everybody likes to make a good bargain. Let him. Small profits on an article will become big profits if you sell enough of the articles.

4: I believe in doing business by and with cash. Large credit is a temptation to careless buying.

5. Supervise details, but don’t allow them to absorb you. Don’t waste the time of a high-prized organizer on a clerk’s job.

6. I prefer the boy from the farm to the college man. The college man won’t begin at the bottom to learn the business.

7. There are plenty of opportunities today. Many young men fail because they are not willing to sacrifice. No one ever built a business on thoughts of having a good time.

  • ” Frank Woolworth won a fortune, not by showing how little could be sold for so much but how much could be sold for little.”  New York Times 1919

 

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