A Footprint of Retail and World History
Updated: Nov 6
While exploring Savannah, GA with my boys this summer, we made an interesting discovery! On Broughton Street, right next to their favorite toy and comic book store and diagonally across from my favorite ice cream place, is a historical footprint. The footprint marks where Woolworth’s, the famous five-and-dime store once stood in Savannah. I love how Savannah preserves its history so well! This marker could have easily been uprooted and discarded years ago.
Long before there were dollar stores on every corner, there were five-and-dime stores in every major shopping district. None were more famous than the original – Woolworth’s. Frank Woolworth opened his first store in 1879 in Utica, New York, and the F.W. Woolworth Company sold items at a discount to the American public until 1997. That’s 118 years!
Woolworth stores throughout the United States and abroad saw much history. The stores pioneered discount retailing and sold the first manufactured Christmas ornaments. During World War I, the stores led a savings stamps drive to raise funds for the war effort. As told in Song of Return, female workers held a sit-down strike in 1937 at a Detroit, MI Woolworth’s to gain fair pay and a 40-hour work week. During World War II, many British Woolworth stores were damaged and destroyed by German bombings, including the New Cross, London store where 168 people died in the tragic event. In 1960, young African-American students held a sit-in at a Greensboro, NC Woolworth’s lunch counter to fight segregation. The store is also featured in numerous popular songs and movies.
Woolworth stores were once everywhere across the country, including main locations in Songbird and Song of Return. The Woolworth’s in Anniston, AL was first located at 1028 Noble Street and then moved to two other locations on Noble during its history. The “Woolworth Girls” served many customers between 1917 and 1972. In Detroit, there were two Woolworth stores. One was located at 165 West Michigan Avenue, and the other was located in the 200 block of South Washington Avenue. Where is the Woolworth’s footprint where you live?
“Rosemary followed behind Annamae who continued to rummage through the trays and trays of five- and ten-cent items at Woolworth’s five-and-dime store.”
Song of Return, Chapter 26