Wednesday, June 10, 2009

...and now, a few words from Woolco

On this special occasion, we’ve asked the distinguished gentleman in the foreground to introduce a new series of posts about Woolco, that stalwart oak in the discount store forest. (Long since cut down, sad to say.) After his opening remarks, he will present the new Miss Woolco to the world. Look at her – she’s practically bowled over with the excitement of it all! Or maybe it's just nerves.

I’ve been to one Woolco store in my life, and it wasn’t in the Chicago area where I grew up. Rather, it was at the Lincoln (Rhode Island) Mall, which opened in 1975. The Woolco store there closed down with the rest of the chain in 1982, the mall still exists in radically altered form. This particular store became my grandparents’ discount Shangri-La after Mammoth Mart closed up shop, and we frequented it during our visits to see them. Never got to meet Miss Woolco, I’m afraid.


  1. The older of the two Woolco stores in Regina, Saskatchewan still had this style of sign at the time the Canadian chain was taken over by Walmart in 1994.

  2. Alas, I never sat foot in a Woolco, but Woolco Drive lives on east of the Big Chicken KFC in Marietta, GA , now the entrance to a Burlington Coat Factory.

    I always suspected Woolco was very comparable to a Kmart from what I've heard. The primary failure was Woolworth's leadership was more reluctant to close the Woolworth's stores and open Woolcos at the pace Kresge was willing to do with Kmart. While Woolco folded in the USA in 1982, the Canadian stores survived until 1994 in Canada, being sold to Walmart, allowing the Bentonville behemoth to expand into Canada.
    The UK operations were sold to ASDA which ultimately became part of Walmart as well, selling in 1982 to Kingfisher, then Gateway in 86 and ASDA in 1988.

  3. I remember shopping at a Woolco in the 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville, TN back in the late 70's. I liked that store, but liked Woolworth's better. I really wish Woolworth's was still around, I miss it!

  4. Woolco was strong in Quebec too, ditto Geoff here, some of them still had the original 60s sign before the Wal-Mart takeover.

    One which I noticed in 1974 did not have the original signage at all was the Victoria B.C. store. Only in big capital letters.

    Hope to hear more from Woolco's story..

  5. Boy, Ms Woolco, sure does loom excited!

    I'm one of the ones that never got to experience Woolco though we loved Woolworth's to the bitter end. I was only two when Woolco closed up shop and I am not sure whether the Cleveland area even had these. Ditto for Chicago.

  6. I don't remember Woolco, but there was a Woolworth's I used to frequent, especially as a young teen. There was a checkout girl I had a crush on (she was 16, I was 13) and we used to share beer and cigarettes out on the loading dock, ahh the good ole days.

  7. Geoff - It would have been interesting to see the script sign at that late date. Thanks!

    Ken - I've seen that very store. It's close to where my grandparents lived until a couple of years ago in Kennesaw. As of then, the building and sign were very recognizable as a former Woolco.

    You're right on about the difference in approach Woolworth took as compared to Kresge.

    Kim - I lived in Nashville from 1988 to 2003, and when I first moved there 100 Oaks was a ghost town. It had a real comeback in the early 90's with a total revamp and a bunch of new stores, but has since faded a second time. We did vacation in Nashville a couple of times in the 70's (Opryland trips)while living in Chicago, but we didn't shop at any malls there then. I have a couple of 100 Oaks pics I'm planning to post later on in the story. I miss Woolworth's too!

    Claude - Thanks, and more to come. the block lettered signs are unusual, as far as I know.

    Didi - Woolworth's hung around long after the age of the variety stores. The last time I remember shopping in one was in 1992. It was always a neat "throwback" experience.

    Tim - If those loading docks could talk... Lots of Woolworth's stories out store, no doubt. Thanks!

  8. You should see 100 Oaks now. Vanderbilt bought it and has expanded the medical center in the old mall portion. It's now known as Vanderbilt Health One Hundred Oaks, and it's going through a total metamorphosis and facelift. Looks great and is once again a viable destination.

  9. Jack - Thanks for sending that link. looks like a real win/win for Vandy and for the shopping center!

  10. It's interesting that the discussion about Woolco should turn to Vanderbilt; it turns out that Vanderbilt houses a sizeable repository of network TV newscasts from 1968 to the present. There you'll find a lengthy ABC News report on the W.T. Grant's March 1976 liquidation (one of the reporters is none other than Ted Koppel) and a February 23, 1979 report on the 100th Anniversary of Woolworth's noting the parent company's attempts at diversifying its way around the steady postwar decline of its namesake dime stores. No streaming due to rights issues and other reasons, but you can custom-build a 'loaner' DVD of televised retail history from these and other stories. The fees for this service are a bit dear for casual users, though a bargain compared to what you'd pay ABC for the privilege.

  11. The medical complex is a good way to reuse big space like this. Vandy showed signs of having outgrown their hospital site 20 years ago. The VA was overcapacity, as well.

    100 Oaks had a number of locational disadvantages, like lack of direct freeway access.

  12. Nice...I haven't been around for a bit, and I return in time for a Woolco retrospective!! Awesome!!

    I was all of two when Woolco closed in the U.S., so while I'm sure I went into the Bangor location at some point in my introductory months of existence, I have no recollection of it. Looking forward to your posts!!

  13. I grew up shopping at the Woolco in Woodbridge, VA, which was right across SR 123 from Zayre. I know the Woolco today is an Asian grocery store, but i forget what's in the former Zayre.

    I remember the logo in this photo being on the store, but forget when it changed to the new logo - 1979 or 80?

  14. Chris - I read about the Vanderbilt TV news archive a while back. Supposedly it's the only one of its kind in existence, a real resource, especially from the decades before home VCR's were in existence. In the case of many news shows (and live entertainment shows such as the Tonight show up until 1972 or so), the networks used to erase the tapes for reuse. Hard to believe but true!

    Anonymous - I agree, it's a prime expansion site for Vandy, and I'll bet the price was right.

    And more than once did I take a wrong turn trying to get to 100 Oaks!

    Kendra - Great to have you back - and just in time!

    deseain - The "new" stylized Woolco logo replaced the script version at least as far back as 1974.

  15. My local Woolco (Tanglewood Mall; Roanoke, Va.) appears to have opened with signs featuring the new logo. That was 1973.

  16. Woolcos were larger in size than the Kmarts at that time...I remember that they had great hobby departments (model cars, model trains).

    The Woolcos in Phoenix had the big block lettering on a steel frame and those famous zig-zag canopies.

  17. Steven - That would probably have been one of the first ones with the new logo, then. Thanks!

    Jamcool - What you're describing is the first Woolco prototype. The second, introduced in 1964, was similar, but the block-lettered tower sign with the fancy steelwork was gone (as was the zig-zag canopy), replaced by the new Woolco script on the face of the building.

  18. I grew up in Jacksonville FL. My first job out of high school in 1979 was in the stockroom at the Woolco store on Atlantic Boulevard.

    Thanks for the site. It brought back a lot of memories just looking at the photos.

  19. I remember when the Woolco sign was changed from the cursive-type one to the one with a big W, at Bell Tower Mall in Greenville, SC. I don't recall the year, though. Too bad that the chain folded, but I can't imagine that it would have survived the Target/Walmart onslaught anyhow.