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October 17, 2000

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A Nickel Eulogy

by Debbie Lindsey

The burial's attendance is small, varied and, for the most part, detached. The pallbearers lack remorse and the attending are merely curiosity seekers -- except for us.

F. W. Woolworth's 5&10 at the corner of Canal and Bourbon has lain in state since it's passing in 1997. The year of its incipience is unknown to me, but its roots date back to 1880. The granddaddy of this venerable neighborhood store was 117 when the Wal-Mart approach to shopping finally made history of it.

My affection for Woolworth began in Mobile, my hometown. I eulogize for all the five and dime's that received my childhood allowances. TG&Y, Kress, Van Antwerp and Woolworth all gave meaning to my Saturday shopping sprees as a child, a teenager, and as an adult. There were grosgrain ribbons of every hue, my first parakeet, birthday presents for Mom of little hand-blown glass menageries, Simplicity patterns and paisley print fabrics. Oh, and my first and last attempt at shoplifting (one raised eyebrow from Mrs. Smitters in Notions was enough to stymie a life of crime). Greeting cards, pierced earrings, candy, candy, and more candy; and don't forget the hot nuts! Grilled cheese sandwiches cut diagonally with a chocolate shake. As the 5&10's grew to dollars I grew to my first set of canisters for my first apartment. Just as my first period found me outfitted with Kimberly-Clark finery, my first missed period had me discreetly purchasing a home testing kit. There were September school supplies -- composition books, fountain pens with ink cartridges of indigo blue, spiral notebooks and lessons. Lessons taught as Civil Rights played hardball over cups of coffee at lunch counters.

I once told a friend, "If I were struck rich tomorrow I would shop at Woolworth's to my heart's content". Today I read a news archive from October 1, 1997: "As F.W. Woolworth signs come down marking the end of 117 years of American five and dime retail history, antique advertising collectors are counting dollar signs of their own (some memorabilia in the four figures)." So, maybe I have some knick-knacks tucked away worth thousands -- so what! nowhere I wanna spend it now.

So tonight, after the grave robbing fork-lifts and tractors become quiet and the pall bearing construction workers prepare for an end of the day cool one, the disinterested tourists will meander towards Acme or the hotel nearby, where D.H. Holmes once stood sharing customers with our five and dime. And tonight my friend and I sit in fold up lawn chairs, wearing our best dressed blacks, and reach into our Woolworth shopping basket, pop a cork and toast that razed rubble of retail once known as Woolworth's.


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