Archived Story

Woolworth lunch counters were classic [UPDATED]

Published 4:12am Monday, December 9, 2013 Updated 6:13am Monday, December 9, 2013

Downtown Fergus Falls during the 1953 Christmas shopping season, 60 years ago, was a busy place.

Many shoppers, when deciding to grab a bite to eat, headed to the Woolworth lunch counter.

The popularity of the Woolworth lunch counter in Fergus Falls was duplicated all across the United States. That popularity made Woolworth’s the largest seller of restaurant food in the United States.

Many stores such as Woolworth’s in Fergus Falls had lunch counters with round lunch counter stools to sit on. Women who were servers wore Woolworth lunch counter uniforms.

In the 1950s, a milk shake at Woolworth cost 25 cents. An egg salad sandwich could be purchased for 30 cents. A delicious slice of apple pie cost 15 cents.

Frank Winfield Woolworth, the father of dime stores, opened his first store in 1879 in Utica, New York. By 1899 he owned 54 stores.

By 1911 the F.W. Woolworth Company became the dominant variety store chain in the United States.

Major merchandise classifications for Woolworth in the early years of their existence included toys, sewing supplies, china, glassware, stationery, shoes and Christmas ornaments.

In the 1920s, the Woolworth store in Fergus Falls was located at 123 West Lincoln Avenue. Later, Woolworth was located in what’s now the Senior Center Building.

In 1962, plans were announced for moving the local dime store to the old Manhattan Building at the southeast corner of Lincoln Avenue and Court Street. A grand opening was held in 1963.

“Plans for transforming the Manhattan Building into a modern glass, granite and brick store were announced by Woolworth manager C.B. Ayres and Fergus Falls attorney Roger Dell, owner of the building,” said Vicky Anderson of the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

In further research, she found that the new store, in 1963, had a frontage of 75 feet and extended 142 feet in depth, to the alley.

Woolworth in Fergus Falls contained 32,000 feet of floor space, more than doubling the 14,200 square feet of space at the former location, a few doors to the east on Lincoln Avenue.

In 1978 the store moved to WestRidge Mall. Times changed, however, and the Fergus Falls Woolworth closed.

The national chain closed its last Woolworth store in 1997.

Dime stores such as Woolworth lost the stationery business to new home office stores.

Growing shoe chains such as Payless and Kinney grabbed the low-price shoe business. Drug stores captured the toiletries business.

Toy chains such as Toys ‘R’ Us and KB Toys captured the toy business.

Sewing supplies went to fabric stores.

Woolworth’s may be gone, but memories of the five and dime store remain. I’m among those who also will long remember those classic lunch counters

The Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, became big news in 1960.

That’s where African-Americans, during the Civil Rights movement, staged a sit-in to demand service. Part of that counter is displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Alice Olson, 87, of Fergus Falls who died in October 2013, worked at three of the Woolworth locations in this community, including the store at WestRidge Mall.

Emily Scott, who died at 94 in September 2012, worked at the candy counter at Woolworth’s Five and Dime in Fergus Falls.

This was before her marriage to Merle Scott in 1944.


Remembering Ken Kolle

I’m among those saddened by the sudden passing of Ken Kolle, 71, a retiree of Otter Tail Power Company who was training and safety coordinator at Hoot Lake Plant.

During my working years with OTP, I made many trips to the plant to take photos.

The first stop was in the plant office where Ken was the right-hand man for Plant Manager Norm Ringstrom.

Ken, Norm and all the employees were down-to-earth individuals, working at the coal-fired plant that supplied electricity for Otter Tail Power. Rest in peace, Ken.





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