It’s hard to comprehend how many things have changed in my lifetime. My children weren’t even born into a world that had Internet; back then we still made phone calls from our touchtone home phones, read the newspaper, searched the card catalog and the microfiche at the library and wrote letters to those that didn’t live nearby. Today our communication is overwhelmingly driven by email, texting and facebooking—words that would’ve garnered a “What-the-hell-are-you-talking-about?” look from anyone you said them to 20 years ago, provided that you even knew to say them (and you didn’t.)
I am one of the millions that has gotten into the habit of buying things I need online—everything from shampoo and paper towels to camera equipment and cell phones. Up until they started charging tax, I got most of my products from Amazon. But back when I was a kid, the only way to buy something was to walk into a store or order it through a catalog (fact: my grandmother’s family used the Sears catalog as toilet paper in their outhouse during The Great Depression.) Five and Dime stores starting dying out way before the Internet arrived, but I imagine they really began dropping like flies when companies like Oriental Trading Company hit the big time. I suppose the only thing in my children’s lifetime that comes even remotely close to Five and Dimes is the Dollar Store, which makes sense given the nature of inflation. But still, Dollar Stores can’t compete with the Five and Dimes of my childhood. By the time I was in the fourth grade I’d often leave school in the afternoons and head to the Benjamin Franklin store across the street. I remember there being lots of one-foot square glass compartments on waist-high shelves, filled with trinkets that you might find in a gum-machine: bouncy balls, fake gemstone rings, slinkys, key chains and a host of other delightfully junky treasures. From my vantage point the store offered nothing I needed, but everything I wanted. The joy of junk beckoned to me every time I walked in, rows of noisy, shiny crap that couldn’t begin to take away the ache within (but held the promise of a brief distraction, nonetheless.) I’m sure I made the store manager nervous as I meandered up and down the aisles and played with whatever looked like it had potential. I’d often buy a piece of rock candy for 10 cents on my way out.
There were Five and Dimes all over Texas in the 1960’s, and when we’d visit our grandparents in Bryan we’d walk over to Wilshire Mall, sit at the counter at Woolworth's and order a hamburger and a Coke float. Once the coins in our pockets had burned a hole through the fabric, we’d stroll up and down the aisles and make our purchases. I’d usually buy some candy and a toy that would either be broken or chewed up by the dog by dinnertime.
Last weekend my brother and I accompanied our sister on a business trip to Fredericksburg, Texas, where the Dooley’s Five and Dime is alive and well. They've been there 80+ years and have no plans of going anywhere (they own the building.) My brother and I had a blast walking through the aisles, reminiscing about our childhood. I didn’t have my camera with me but I did have my phone, so I took a few photos of things that stood out to me. It goes against my grain to post photos that aren’t (ahem) aesthetically pleasing, but the images will conjure lots of memories for anyone who grew up in the sixties and seventies.
This is the personal beauty aisle, full of emery boards and nail polish remover and everything you'd need to roll your hair, shave your face or do your nails. It is exactly how I remember it. I love the handwritten yellow sign at the top... how often do you see that at Wal Mart or CVS?
Yes, this is where many women got their underwear and bras, sorted according to size. Forget hangers or three packs, you could go to the Five and Dime and pick up your granny panties one pair at a time (and still can in Fredericksburg!)
Toys, glorious toys: so much to see, touch and buy! There were bags of green army men, bags of marbles, jacks, kazoos and “clickers,” which apparently had no function other than to drive your parents crazy. Side note: See the yellow, red and black-striped cylinder thingy with a handle on it? That was our X Box. Seriously.
Doilies. Texas. Need I say more?
Wondering what this plastic cord is for? Look at the photos on the box. I can’t even begin to count how many keychains I made out of this stuff… especially during day camp. To her credit, my mom kept one of them on her keyring for years! I was so proud of it.
This last photo speaks volumes about my childhood. I loved Chiclets, Life Savers, candy cigarettes and gum cigars (I’m chewing on a piece of orange cigar gum as I type this.) But Luden’s Wild Cherry cough drops were the best; if you were good enough at feigning a cough, you could legally eat them during school!