Friday, July 31, 2009

Woolco's "Fairly Fresh" New Look!

The early 1970’s found Woolco in serious need of an image makeover. The stores’ appearance had remained more or less static for years (the basic exterior design was now ten years old, and the main elements of the interior package had been in place since day one), despite the sea change in the American sense of style that was taking place.

In 1973, Woolco embarked on a plan to change it all, at least as far as their new stores were concerned. The “discount store look”, so evident in their stores despite the chain’s firmly stated disdain for that term, would be replaced with more upscale décor in an effort to emulate a true department store feel. The standard Woolco prototype was redesigned inside and out, and an attractive new stylized logo took the place of the familiar Woolco script.

The new Woolco stores were of a larger average size than before, up to 150,000 square feet, while the smaller “mid-size market” Woolco format was discontinued altogether. All new company stores that were 100,000 square feet or less would bear the Woolworth’s nameplate, a group which included many of the new mall-based stores, though mall-attached Woolcos would continue to open as well. The new, larger Woolworth’s units were classified as “A” stores, a company designation that was first used in the mid-60’s, one that had long been in use by Sears and Montgomery Ward, among others.

From the standpoint of customers who regularly shopped at the older Woolcos, the changes must have appeared sweeping. A more distinctive exterior design was introduced, with a larger elevated portion to the façade, consisting of beige block ornamented with brown waterfall sections and of course, the new logo. The interior lighting was a major departure from the past as well. The traditional discount store fluorescent strip lighting arrangement – with its “relative harshness...where a single candy wrapper on the floor sticks out like a sore thumb”, as a Chain Store Age article put it, was junked in favor of recessed mercury vapor fixtures, providing a softer and more elegant light, as one would typically see in a department store setting.

The new Woolco stores would make much greater use of carpeting, particularly in the apparel sections. Woolco was now able to carry a much larger amount of (high-profit) apparel, due to increased space and the introduction of “spiral fixtures and multilevel racks which display a large amount of hangware”, the article stated. You know, with the popularity the words “software” and “hardware” as they relate to computers have gained over the last 30 years, I’m surprised that the word “hangware” (I'd never heard of it before reading the abovementioned article) never took off in clothing sales. “Visit Kohl’s for Hot Summer Deals on hangware for the whole family!” Maybe I need to think that one through.

An additional cue from the world of department store design can be seen in the rearrangement of the stores into “boutique” sections, where individual departments were cubed off from the rest of the store via half-height walls, special signage and other design elements. The goal here was to draw customers in and encourage them to stay awhile. The record departments, those beloved cash cows of discounters everywhere, particularly benefited from the new setting. Another aim of the “boutique” arrangement was to bolster Woolco’s furniture/home furnishings business by allowing room groupings of furniture (with coordinated lamps, oriental rugs, etc.) to be displayed.

Woolco’s intention, as a Woolworth executive put it for Chain Store Age in 1974, was to “reduc(e) customer confusion”, as the stores “were too bland and sterile before”. The executive noted that “the décor sought is not elaborate, but fairly fresh-looking”. Now when it comes to retail history, I find a lot of the stuff amusing (guess I’d have to, right?), but that last statement made me laugh when I read it. “Fairly fresh” – Way to swing for the fences, Woolco! It sold the (really very nice) new concept woefully short, in my opinion.

Among the most important upgrades were the changes to Woolco’s Red Grille restaurants, consistently one of the highest grossing and most profitable areas of the store. The objective here was to move away from the cafeteria image (although the serving line would be retained) to more of a restaurant/coffee shop, along the lines of an Alphy’s (owned by L.A.- based Alpha Beta Acme Markets) or a Wag’s (Walgreen’s restaurant operation, with locations in the Chicago, Tampa and Miami areas). The garish red and white-striped awnings were done away with, replaced with a classier looking soffit and a row of white-globed lights along the service line. Comfortable booths were added, adding to an overall more elegant, subdued atmosphere. Red carpeting was laid down, and the entire area was semi-enclosed, giving patrons a “feeling of separation from the store rather than one of a crowd of shoppers hanging over their shoulders while they eat”. Probably the biggest change of all for the Red Grilles was their relocation from their previous location in the back of the store to the front, complete with their own outside entrances. The company’s two new stores in Wichita provided Woolworth top management an excellent basis for comparison – one Woolco had the Red Grille up front, the other in the standard rear location. Although this was unintentional (the plumbing had already been set for a front location in one of the stores and couldn’t be economically moved), the difference in restaurant revenue between the two stores was significant enough to prompt a front-location mandate for Red Grilles in all future Woolcos. Lastly, the Red Grilles of many older Woolco stores, including the company’s first Columbus, Ohio unit, were remodeled to the new image (though for cost reasons most remained in their original location in the store), something that was less frequently the case with other departments.

The company’s new “flagship store” opened in Langhorne (Bucks County), Pennsylvania, in Lincoln Plaza, adjacent to the Oxford Valley Mall in June 1974. This new 155,000 square foot Woolco, the largest in the fleet, was a true showplace - incorporating everything in the company’s new bag of tricks. Ironically, this moment of triumph coincided with Woolco’s startling decision to introduce a new policy dispensing with grand opening festivities of any sort. This did not escape the notice of the local paper, the Courier Times, which headlined the following day’s article “No ceremony, but it’s the biggest”, and led with the following sentence – “There was no ceremony to mark the occasion. No beauty queens (!), bands or politicians. Not even a ribbon cutting”. The (no doubt embarrassed) store manager offered an explanation: “We want to get open to the public rather than delay anything.” It’s a shame the word “meh” wasn’t yet part of the American lexicon – “Welcome to your new store, Ma’am. Meh. Fairly fresh, isn’t it?” In fairness, the article did record the presence of red, white and blue banners and a “Woolco Grand Opening” sign, things that always seem to warm the hearts of readers of this site.

At the end of 1974, there were 242 Woolco stores in 36 states and 86 in Canada, including 14 new catalog(ue) stores , a concept that (for Woolco) was unique to Canada. In Great Britain, whose first Woolco opened in 1967, there were now a total of 9 units. In 1977, Woolco finally surpassed the Woolworth’s stores in gross sales. By the end of 1979, there were 312 Woolco stores in the United States, 114 in Canada and 13 in Great Britain.

By this time Woolco had entered the long overlooked Chicago area, opening their first two area locations in late 1973, in Villa Park and Homewood. Eventually more Chicago area locations would follow, including Niles, Schaumburg, Oak Lawn, Matteson, DeKalb, Wheaton , and Rolling Meadows. This last location was originally opened as a Topps Super City discount store in 1961, and had sat vacant for over 2 ½ years after Topps, a store I fondly remember shopping at, closed down their entire operation. In 1978, expanded and refaced, it reopened as a Woolco, only to close four years later at the chain’s demise. After another long vacancy, it opened yet once more, this time as a Dominick’s Finer Foods store (and as of two years ago at least, the last time I saw it, was vacant again!)

In the mid-70’s, however, Woolco was still entering other new markets as well, opening additional stores in Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Rhode Island in 1975/6, for example. The Rhode Island location, at the brand new Lincoln Mall, is the lone Woolco store I can recall shopping at, having visited there a least once or twice each year during my family visits there, an August ritual for years. We never ate at the Red Grille – the siren song of the Newport Creamery was just too much to resist. This store became a Caldor after Woolco’s demise. One area stands out in my memory above all others, and that is of the record department, completely decked out in posters at one point for Peter Frampton’s “I’m in You” album (1977), his follow-up to the monster-selling double lp “Frampton Comes Alive”, and at another time for (the less remembered) Rex Smith’s “Sooner or Later” album (1979). (Great. Now I’ll be singing “You Take My Breath Away” all night. At least my voice is deep enough now.)

Woolco made a major advance into the metropolitan New York market in 1976, when it took over five former W.T. Grant stores in Suffolk County (Long Island), New York. The individual locations were Bridgehampton, East Patchogue, Lake Ronkonkoma, Riverhead and Rocky Point.

By late 1980, however, despite the continuing profitability of F.W. Woolworth, the parent company, it had become clear that Woolco was slipping. While the combined Woolworth/Woolco stores division was still contributing over half the total company’s sales in 1981, it accounted for only 21 percent of the total profits that year. Taken alone, the Woolco stores would have posted a substantial loss. The first rumblings of store closings began to circulate. That year, Woolco, with $2.1 billion in sales was now in third place beyond its fellow Retail Class of 1962 members Kmart (an astonishing $16.6 billion) and Wal-Mart (an up-and-coming $2.5 billion). Another ’62 class member, Target, was on Woolco’s heels with $2 billion. Still safely behind were Zayre($1.4b), The May Co.’s Venture ($612 million) and Federated’s Gold Circle ($397m) and Richway ($226m), operated as separate divisions at the time.

Of course, the 1974 revamp was stale by this time, and Woolco didn’t have another act waiting in the wings. In their last issue of 1981, Business Week published an article entitled “Is Woolworth too late in upgrading Woolco?” The answer would soon be all too evident.

In a last great effort to turn things around, Woolworth hired themselves an executive with a superb track record, Bruce G. Allbright, president of Dayton-Hudson’s Target division, putting him in charge of the Woolworth/Woolco operation. Allbright, who had played a key role in Target’s rapid ascendancy to the heights of the discounting world, began work on January 1, 1982 with a mandate to fix Woolco as priority one. Ambitious plans were announced, including an “upscale renovation” of the Woolco stores. There would be fundamental changes as well – the reestablishment of separate divisional management and advertising groups for Woolworth and Woolco, in effect correcting a ten-year old mistake.

Sadly, none of this was to be. Although Allbright’s bid to turn Woolco around would be unsuccessful, he did perform an extremely valuable service for Woolworth. His astute analysis of Woolco’s plight and the actions necessary to correct it convinced Woolworth’s board that the process would take far too long, cost far too much, and still possibly fall short. On September 24, 1982, Woolworth announced the closing of all 336 U.S. Woolco stores. The end was at hand. Or was it?

Within a few days after the announcement, the business pages were buzzing with word of interest in the Woolco operation from an unusual source. 29-year-old Sheikh Mohammad al-Fassi of Saudi Arabia announced his intention to buy the failing chain for the expressed purpose of saving the jobs that would otherwise be lost. Preparations for negotiation with the Sheikh, a Miami resident at the time, were put in place. Within a few days, Woolworth lawyers had convinced the Sheikh that it was “in Woolco’s best interest to close the stores”. The end was here. In December 1982 Bruce Allbright returned to Dayton-Hudson, with a year of Woolco war stories under his belt, as vice chairman of Target. Two years later, he would be named Target's chairman and CEO. Allbright would retire in 1989 as president of Dayton-Hudson. The Woolco store buildings were sold off to a “Who’s Who” list of retailers, and many still operate today behind a myriad of nameplates.

The Woolco era would live on for many more years in Canada, coming to an end in January 1994, when Woolworth sold 120 of the 142 stores there to Wal-Mart, providing that company its entrée to the Canadian market. Eventually, the balance of the stores would be sold off to other retailers, including Zellers.

In the years immediately following the Woolco closure, F.W. Woolworth would continue to operate its famous namesake variety stores. By 1993, the Woolworth’s stores were in steep decline, and half of the 800 remaining variety stores were shut down. On July 17, 1997, an American retail epoch came to an end when the remaining U.S. Woolworth’s stores were closed. The British Woolworth stores, one of a rarefied class of American brands (Heinz Foods is another example) that Britons have truly claimed as their own, closed down earlier this year. Since the late 70’s, Woolworth has emphasized its Foot Locker shoe division, which was well positioned to capitalize on the exploding (and to this day, continuing) popularity of sports (and music) celebrity-endorsed athletic shoes. Another brand, Champs Sports, was added in 1989, forming the Woolworth Athletic Group. In 1999, the F.W. Woolworth Co. was renamed Venator Group, and two years later adopted its current name, Foot Locker, Inc., an appropriate moniker for its current business.

The first photo, from 1974, shows an up-close view of the “new” Woolco sign, gleaming in the night. The second shows a daytime shot of the new façade with a family of happy shoppers leaving with their treasures. (Looks like one of them is carrying a “target” – what might the significance of that be?) The third photo depicts a very attractive in-mall Woolco entrance. Next is the lingerie department, followed by the sporting goods section, where another “target” (OK, now I’m convinced it’s Freudian.) can be seen in the background. Lastly, a young man (John Schneider from “The Dukes of Hazzard”? Nah.) shops for TV sets in the store’s electronics department. Below are a series of black-and-white shots from 1974, depicting the Langhorne, Pennsylvania store mentioned above. First is the “new look” Red Grille, complete with front-facing windows. Next are the men’s and boys’ departments, followed by the record department, sporting what I think may be black-light posters displayed above. The last photo shows a living room grouping that would do James Lileks proud. The couch in the foreground defies description. I’ll try anyway, about “Scalloped Florentine”? I sure hope it came with optional clear vinyl slipcovers.

Photos two through five are vintage Woolworth publicity photos. The first color photo and all of the black and white shots are used by permission of Chain Store Age, to whom I extend my sincere thanks!
Steven Swain has pointed out that Woolco did in fact carry out some of the "upscale renovations" referred to above during the last year of their existence. A while back he featured the Woolco location at the Blacksburg, Virginia University Mall on his website, LiveMalls, complete with a couple of great black and white photos.


  1. Still keep up with the blog, just haven't commented in a while.

    I'm not overly familiar with the Woolco chain as they never got to my neck of the woods. Either way, they did attempt a stab into the already-heavily discounter-filled Wisconsin market in the mid-to-late 1970s, albeit, in areas that didn't have any other 'large' discount store. I only know of two locations thus far, and wondered if there were more. One was in Wisconsin Rapids, anchoring the Rapids Mall which opened in 1979 (replacing their Woolworth 5-and-10 store), and the last one to open in this state anchored the Beaver Dam Mall in Beaver Dam, opening in late 1980.

    Not too ironically, both stores, after a short run as Copps discount stores upon Woolco's closure, became Wal-Mart stores....this state's first.

    Both stores would of had the look and logotype seen in the first couple of color images.

    It's interesting how that guy, formerly from Target, would try to save the chain but ultimately couldn't, and would return to Target (taking back with him some know-how of what NOT to do, thanks to seeing Woolworth's financial situation with the Woolco chain) and lead Target into the what it is today. Still nowhere near as large in store count as Wal-Mart, but it wasn't too long ago, 20 years, that Target only had stores in the largest cities in my state.

    Now Foot Locker, I do recall well. Them, along with Kinney Shoes and Richman Bros., were in many-a-mall in this state.

    You did forget to mention too, that Woolworth, during the early/mid 1990s, attempted to bring Canadian-based Northern Reflections (they go by several nameplates I think), into the U.S. retail landscape. My local mall was one location of many that opened in late 1992 through 1993, but shut not too long afterwards in 1999-2000.

  2. Woolco was not unique in its situation by the late 70s/early 80s. A lot of consolidation was taking place and entire chains, like Topps and some smaller operations had gone out of business (or soon would) K-mart may have been huge by then, but they had neglected their stores and Wal-mart was emerging as the "un-K-Mart" in the markets where they competed.

  3. The amazing visual clarity of the color photos are so vivid that it is almost as if you can step back in time and enjoy Woolco. It's like watching the 70s TV versian of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mysteries. LOL! I love it.

    I also like the updated logo and the new "fairly fresh" look as opposed to the old look. Come on, you cannot tell me Miss Woolco didn't deserve to celebrate the new look?

  4. And then there are the completely unrelated [url=]Woolworths[/url] supermarkets and discount stores in Australia and New Zealand, which are still very much in business.

    I definitely remember the Woolco store on South Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa, but mainly because after it was shuttered, the supports for the roadside sign remained there, rusting, for much of the 1980s. The building was later a Phar-Mor, and then a MacFrugal's, and I believe it was finally torn down and replaced by a Lowe's.

  5. I remembered that the wall signs had some kind of emblem on the sides. Thanks for posting the picture to jar memories.

    Woolco built two stores in my area during this 1973 refresh: the Tanglewood Mall store and another at University Mall in Blacksburg, Va., which opened in 1974.

    Tanglewood looked a lot more like the Woolco stores of old than the updated prototype, but it had the new logo and other interior upgrades. University Mall got pretty much the whole package, though the exterior is different.

    The mercury vapor fixtures sure made the ceiling look cleaner, but the improvement in aesthetics was a mixed bag in practice. For one thing, the light level was about half that of fluorescent lighting, creating some dark looking stores, especially as the light fixtures aged. Depending on the manufacturer, the lights could eventually give a greenish cast that made everything they shined on look like a middle school natatorium.

    One thing that may not have been mentioned was that Woolco actually completed some of those “upscale renovations” in the 1982-1983 era. Our local stores were rather dramatically redone, and it was pulling crowds back into the stores. (Kmart was still in its mid '70s design phase in Roanoke until a year or two later)

  6. Yet another great post! Love the pics. That sofa is FUG. You know what I mean! :)

    You had to mention that Rex Smith song! Now it's running through my brain, too. And yes, I admit, I had the 45. In my defense I was 13 years old LOL!

  7. The early 80s was when several discount chains went under, leading to the national expanson of other chains. Home Depot expanded by acquiring many of the Woolco sites. Target expanded west by buying former FedMart and Zodys sites. Wal Mart bought Big K (no relation to K Mart)in the South and Grand Central out west.

  8. My reaction to this building is 180 degrees opposite to my reaction to the first. Whereas I thought the 1962 building looks way cool in nostalgic pictures, but crappy in person in its time and day, this was the first Woolco in the city I considered to be an attractive store. But by the time we got one of these Woolco wasn't too far from winding down, and it was on the other side of town, so I can't say I had too many memories. Now of course, looking at it with a more critical eye, I have to say it is also a cheesy looking by today's standards.

    So if I have to rate the prototypes in terms of picture-worthiness, the first would be the best, followed by the second (but only because of the dramatic entrance). But if I have to rate the stores in terms of shopper-worthiness, this last try would probably be a winner.

    Note to jamcool: Although Home Depot may have taken some Woolco stores, the chain that took over the majority of the sites was Walmart. In fact, I think the acquision of the U.S. sites in the 1980's is what really helped propel them to the big leagues. That tells you that Woolco, for all its faults, at least did a good job picking real estate.

  9. Matt – Good to hear from you! Woolco was a latecomer to the Chicago market as well. In a way it’s a shame they left such a big swath of the Midwest alone for so long, especially since so many area chains faltered in the early 70’s – Topps, Community, Turn-Style, etc.

    As far as the Target president goes, sometimes the most valuable lessons involve what not to do, of course. Target was also a fairly slow entrant to the Chicago retail scene.

    I think there are a good many Foot Lockers still around. Kinney was absolutely huge in the 60’s and early 70’s, advertising on TV all the time. Woolworth opened a great many specialty chains afer closing Woolco, most of which had names that rhyme with “what?” today, but Northern Reflections I actually remember – as sort of an outdoor apparel kind of thing, right? I had no idea they were a Woolworth brand.

    Anonymous – You’re right, Woolco’s situation was similar to a lot of discounters in the early 70’s, the big difference being Woolworth’s considerable financial muscle at the time. And 1980 was darn near the zenith for Kmart, as it would turn out. It’s hard to convey just what a powerhouse they were to those who don’t remember their glory days firsthand. Today’s Kmart is a very faint shadow of that.

    Didi – Yes, I remember the girls’ lockers at school with Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson posters all over them - fame is a fleeting thing! Where are those shows even seen today?

    I think the new look was a nice change as well, and that Miss Woolco was wronged! It would take something like that to get me to use the word “meh”! :)

    Jim – I think they were all related at some point. Woolworth was into international venture from pretty early on.

    I remember visiting a MacFrugal’s store (similar to Big Lots or Ocean State Job Lot) in Memphis on a business trip back in the early 90’s, and seeing tons of Disneyland-branded merchandise on the racks that had obviously been taken off sale there. Shirts selling for three bucks that probably cost $25 or more at the park. I bought a stack of them. They must have wanted to ship it as far away from the Disneyland market area as possible!

    Steven – Glad you liked them, and thanks for posting that great link. I need to spend more time reading your backlog posts! The Tanglewood unit was a great looking store, especially in those dramatic b/w photos! The main sign is more subdued than the outdoor ones I’ve shown, and looks more the internal signage in the Langhorne, PA photos.

    My Junior High had an indoor swimming pool, and I remember the “greenish cast” just as you describe, and agree that some poorly lit stores have had the same effect. Far from ideal for merchandise display.

    Thanks for the info on the late-term remodels, I wasn’t aware of those!

    Kim – Thanks, and ditto on the sofa, no question about it!

    Sounds like a good excuse to me! :) I’m a couple of years older, and had been a Beatles fan for quite some time by then. Rex Smith, not so much. But it was one of those songs you just automatically sing when it pops into your head, like “Don’t Give Up On Us Baby” by David Soul!

    Jamcool – It definitely cleared the way for the handful of retail giants we have today, that’s for sure! I’d have to say the demise of all those chains benefited Target as much as anyone, at least as far as chains that still exist goes. They also picked up several of the west coast Gemco stores.

    Danny – Very good points. Of course they all look pretty cheesy today, but I don’t consider that a bad thing, from a nostalgic point of view at least. I think the 1974 store would have been very appealing at first, but before long the whole Woolco operation was sliding.

  10. One of my vague childhood memories from the mid-1980s was that of a hulking former junior department store located in an I-65-adjacent strip mall (Springhill Plaza), here in Mobile, AL. The description of the 1970s-era architectural design absolutely matches the appearance of the building--waterfalls and everything. Sadly it was demolished some time in the mid-1990s in order to make way for newer commercial development, including a shiny new unemployment office and in-line retail space. The Woolco Drive that bordered the shopping center now carries a forgettable new moniker and is flanked with commercial developments of its own.

    On a side note, it seems that during the 1970s, mansard roofs/facades were big among retailers, especially grocery stores. I know former regional supermarket chain Delchamps capped a couple of the new stores of that era with shaked shingle mansard roofs.

  11. Mansards were everywhere and then they disappeared. The style was probably was pioneered by Fazio's in Cleveland in the mid-60s, who used shake-covered mansard roofs. A little later in the decade, National Tea started using this style with its "New Orleans"-styled prototype. Jewel used it, Fazio's competitor, Pick-n-Pay used it, as did their Chicago chain, Dominick's. Grand Union and Big Star (separately before their merger) used it, too among others.

  12. Yes, it's all coming back to me now. My clearest memory is the K-mart on Hubbell Ave. in Des Moines. But i vaguely recall a Woolco in a competitive location just down the street. I believe it morphed into a Zayre at some point. In the early seventies a Target opened on the other side of town and suddenly K-mart seemed low-rent. (The Target had a very good record section. I still have a few vinyl treasures from those bins!)

    As for the Woolco signage, i must admit i prefer the vacuform polycarbonate squares seen in your June 23 post. It's a more honest discount approach.

  13. From the looks of these pictures, Mobile, Alabama has a surving 70s era Woolco that lives on as an Old Time Pottery store located at Government Blvd & Azalea. The brown waterfalls have been removed from the front facade, but the side ones remain and have been painted white. Even the mercury vapor lighting is still there, but it looks like the store interior has been stripped bare of any other traces of being a Woolco. I think this was converted to a Home Depot and that lasted only a few years until they opened a new store in the main retail district near Bel Air Mall and Festival Center.

  14. Didi – Yes, I remember the girls’ lockers at school with Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson posters all over them - fame is a fleeting thing! Where are those shows even seen today?

    This risks showing off my complete dorkiness but here goes. The last five to ten years I haven't been much of a TV watcher especially since 2005. I have primarily worked nights and weekends so I am never home to watch much anyway unless it's The View or a soap opera. Sundays though I get leisurely time and when I am bored and refuse to do important household duties, I end up flipping channels on my TV. We don't have cable but there is a local station that is devoted to airing classic TV shows. Lo and behold one Sunday morning I flipped through and found the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew show. I remembered a brief version that was around in the mid 90s but this was definately not it. It was total 70s and way before my time. Since DTV kicked in the picture is crystal clear and I was thinking "It's like I could step into the 70s! I love it!" I had the same feeling this morning when I found Charlie's Angels playing. Anyway, I looked up the 70s Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew references on IMDb and learned that the first season is actually on DVD. I learned more about the show, Shaun, Parker and Pamela Sue Martin who I remembered as a kid on Dynasty. What can I say? I want to step into the 70s! If I didn't I wouldn't have watched it again the next week which happened to coincide with this post.

    I think the new look was a nice change as well, and that Miss Woolco was wronged! It would take something like that to get me to use the word “meh”! :)

    I totally concur! Poor Ms. Woolco. She would have been so happy unveiling that bright new look.LOL

  15. As was written, Woolco didn't even have a presence in the greater NY area until 1977 or so, so you have to wonder what the chain's strategies were if they excluded a large metro area. Many, if not all of the Long Island Woolco stores were recycled Grants or Great Eastern locations.

    BTW, anyone know what stores Woolco had in Nassau County (NY) aside from East Meadow and Jericho? I've been racking my brain trying to figure that out.

  16. DewN Nitek - Ah, the famous Woolco Drive. Wherever they could, Woolco had the adjacent road named after the chain, and there are a number of "Woolco Drives" that still exist long after Woolco's demise. Mansards, as the next commenter points out, were indeed very common, probably reaching their wides use in the early/mid 70's.

    Anonymous - Safeway was another one that made fairly extensive use of mansard roofs. Jewel used them all of the time on their 70's Jewel/Turn-Style "Family Center" combunations, but plenty of Jewel-Oscos and standalone Jewels had them as well. I'd have to say that the Fazio's cedar shake mansards are my favorites. many of the ohter chains used brown powder-coated (or dip-painted)aluminum.

    Otto - That's interesting - I don't think I've seen a Woolco to Zayre conversion. Zayre was in their own world of hurt by then.

    The two types of Woolco signs you describe could hardly be more representative of their eras. Thanks!

    Anonymous - That's wild - I wouldn't have thought that the Home Depot wouldn't have left those vestiges of the Woolco in place. An Old Time Pottery? Yes.

    Didi - Nothing like the classics, eh! They must cycle through those reruns fast, because I don't think those shows ran very long!

    Anonymous - the five Suffolk County Woolcos actually became Caldor stores. Grants was gone for quite a while by that time. Unfortunately, I don't know the locations of the Nassau Woolcos, and the two you cite are news to me. Thanks!

  17. I think the old Woolco at the intersection of Government Boulevard and Azalea Road also spent some time as a Kmart location, too. Delchamps and, eventually, Greer's, a somewhat downscale local grocery chain, operated the supermarket building in that same strip mall.

  18. Is it just me, or is almost every mall that once had a Woolco now in the crapper? I've only found two malls that once had Woolcos and are still thriving, one of which is Meridian Mall in Lansing.

    The store was obviously before my time, but heck if it didn't look cool.

  19. This post explains why, even though we always went to the Woolworth in Flourtown, PA or the Clover in the Andorra section of Philly, and I don't think I ever set foot in a Woolco, my mom always referred to any of these stores as the "WoolworthsWoolco" all one word. Never knew where the Woolco came from!

  20. What a great article on Woolco. I spent 12 years with Woolco. What you did not mention in the article was the fact that the store had many leased dept's. Mens wear.sporting dept,paint dept. Later in years Woolco wanted to run all of the dept's. You are right about Woolco not wanting to called discount.I think that was one of the probleams here. Just watching K-Mart going gang busters and Wal-Mart tearing up in the South..You just knew it was just a matter of time. I saw the hand writing on the wall back in 1980. It was time to get out.

    1. Hello, Like your post... I too was a general manager of the first Woolco inthe so called Mid West region...Mpls Mn. Not wanted to be called "discount' caused problems for Woolco's and the general managers. Policy was to match prices, but keep the gross from dropping... Not possible....I too left Woolworth after 20 years of service to open my own retail business. I do thank Woolworth for that....

  21. Anonymous - Thanks very much, and I appreciate your mentioning the leased departments, something nearly all the major discounters had in those days.

    Woolworth had the name and the financial backing to make a huge go of Woolco, yet they held back. With more foresight and fortitude, they might have ruled the 70's/80's retail world instead of Kmart.

  22. I was a management trainee at the Woolco in Orange CT in 1978 - 1980It was a strict three year program.

    I recall a new store opening in Lake Ronkonkoma on Long Island around that same time. I remember going there to assit in the opening

    I believe one opened in Jericho around that same time.

  23. I'm really enjoying the posts here...especially the ones about Woolco.

    Regarding leased departments, I can remember my store in Orange CT. having a Mensware Department owned by Rockower.

    On another note, I recall driving a Uhaul to the FW Woolworth Building in Manhatten to pick up sample merchandise left there by the various vendors.

    That was always a fun trip. Most of the merchandise was given to employees after it was gone through by the!