In 1964, when Woolco’s national coverage was still extremely light and there was no significant penetration in any major market, the company made the decision to introduce a compact version of their standard store layout for secondary markets (population 25,000 to 75,000). While the typical Woolco store size varied from anywhere between 100,000 to 140,000 square feet, the smaller units would be 70 to 80,000 square feet, yet would carry a full line, including the auto center and Red Grille cafeteria. The first of the “mini-Woolcos” opened in 1964 in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada, with other units immediately following in Columbus, Mississippi and Kinston, North Carolina.
Around the same time, Woolworth introduced another store banner, the short-lived “Worth Marts”. These stores were basically conversions of older Woolworth’s stores that were still under lease, but had been supplanted by Woolco stores or newer, larger Woolworth’s units. The program bore several similarities to S.S. Kresge’s “Jupiter” store line, especially the merchandise mix, which emphasized fast-moving staple goods. Twenty-seven units were slated for conversion to Worth Mart stores in 1964.
In 1966, the pace of growth accelerated, with Woolco’s store count doubling from 27 to 52 units by the end of the year. By now, a number of cities had multiple Woolco stores - Columbus, Ohio with three stores, Phoenix, Denver, Memphis and Louisville each with two. Two years after that, in 1968, Woolco had two stores each in the New Orleans, Atlanta , Dallas and Houston areas, three in Charlotte, and a third was added in Memphis. Still, there were no stores in many Woolworth strongholds such as Chicago, for example, nor were there any at all in California’s mushrooming markets.
In contrast, Kresge had nearly 300 Kmarts by 1968, and was adding over 60 per year. More than matching Woolco’s store density in their existing markets and with particular strength in the areas Woolco was nowhere to be seen, the die was pretty well cast between the two companies by the mid-60’s. Kmart was clearly seen as Kresge’s future, while Woolworth continued to hedge their bets.
One area in which Woolworth did continue to invest heavily was the Canadian Woolco program. As mentioned, four of the seven stores opened during Woolco’s first year, 1962, were in Ontario. Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia were entered in 1964, Saskatchewan in 1965, Quebec and Manitoba in 1966, Newfoundland in 1967 and New Brunswick in 1968. Thus, after six years of existence, Woolco had 27 stores in Canada, covering every province except Prince Edward Island - so I guess “Anne of Green Gables” didn’t shop at Woolco. (I threw that last line in for my wife and daughter, who occasionally read this thing.) Claude of the “Ghost of Steinberg’s” Flickr page, a great collection of photos of Steinberg’s supermarkets and Miracle Mart discount stores, has kindly brought us up to date on the fate of many of the Canadian Woolco stores. You can read it in the comments section of this previous post.
The locations of the scenes pictured are unknown to me, with the exception of the first one, an artist’s rendering of the East Brunswick, New Jersey Woolco, which opened in 1964, and the fifth (the “Ladies Apparel” section), which was taken at the Azalea Mall Woolco in Richmond, Virginia. Note the Red Grille with its “familiar red-and-white striped awning” in back of the jewelry and camera departments, and the tan cloth pool table and pin setting machines in the sporting goods section. I especially like the camping setup, with the pop-up trailer and galvanized steel Igloo cooler (and a male mannequin, for cryin’ out loud!). It was a great day when I figured out how to set up my Coleman stove.