A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories

Friday, 8 February 2008

I Remember Woolworth's

A short passage from F.W. Woolworth and the American Five and Dime

“Such were the swelling problems of big-city merchants, but Woolworth officials had not been unduly hesitant to proceed with plans to build it’s largest variety store in a return to downtown Boston and to open the nine-floor, 133, 000 square- foot building on September 11, 1970. Almost twice as many items as were sold in other Woolworth’s would be stocked on the four selling floors of the Boston store, with the four of the five upper floors making a ramp connected parking complex for up to 1,000 cars.”

The demolition of Raymond’s Department Store was a big event for me. I watched the process and wondered what would fill the large hole that opened by Christmas of 1967. The work was slow and the shifting over of Franklin Street to meet Bromfield seemed to take a long time.
The building that was finished in 1970 was very modern compared to the ones it replaced that once housed Raymond’s. This new building was to be the largest Woolworth’s that the company had ever built. Woolworth's had other smaller, traditional stores in downtown Boston but all were closed to make way for this new BIG ONE!
I was five when it opened and I don’t recall a grand opening in the Washington Street area like this.
I did not attend the first day festivities but was taken in soon after and was amazed that this place was a Woolworth’s!
We had a two Woolworth’s in Brookline and this was not at all like them. They were kind of small and all on one floor. This was so large and it felt like a real department store.
The main floor was alive with crowds and activity. It was two-stories in height and held many display counters as well as a very large curved lunch counter with some booth seating as well. I recall the wonderful smells in the this area coming from both the restaurant and the deli counter. Towards the rear of the main floor there was a full service deli counter with chickens roasting on a rotisserie. The smells were great!
Most of the standard Woolworth’s items were found on this main floor. Another feature was the “town crier” type of sales attraction in the main area by the front doors. The salesman would use a microphone and show off various items for sale.
The “new” LCD watches were an attraction at this counter that I remember seeing one Saturday on a shopping trip in the early 70’s.
The second floor contained large and small electrical appliances including televisions and stereos. The hardware department, bath shop, pet shop and children’s toys were also on this floor.
The third floor had men’s clothing, children’s clothing and a nice sized sporting goods department with bicycles. Men’s and children’s shoes were held in a corner of this floor, too.
The basement included the women’s clothing and shoe departments as well as baby clothing.
A shoe repair counter and the Harvest House Restaurant were maintained on this lower level.

The loss of Raymond’s to this location was a big change for the Boston shoppers of the late 60’s. Woolworth’s tried to capture some of the sights and sounds of the original Raymond’s by keeping a full range deli and food counter and a modern version of Unkle Eph pitching items to the shoppers but without the hat and costume of long ago.

This Woolworth’s was grand and just that little bit tacky. It was a place you could have a nice sit-down lunch and not spend all your newly acquired allowance. I found myself going in this place on every shopping trip into Boston and it seemed to often have some item I needed for this or that.
The Harvest House was a nice place to eat if you did not feel like the crowd of the upstairs counter area and it had a full menu to suit most tastes.
The Harvest House was the place I ate on shopping trips from the early 70’s to mid-80’s.
It never changed. Woolworth’s hardly changed.
Maybe that’s why it’s gone. 1970 to the mid-90’s was a short run in comparison to its other department store competitors.
Not every Bostonian found it to their taste!
It was not trendy…not really uptown…It was Woolworth’s!
But it was very unique and a Boston original!
Our very own REALLY BIG five and dime.


Ps....The photos above are all Boston shots except the old 1950 interior of a Woolworth's.
The photos of Raymond's were taken in mid-1967 just before the demolition began.
Feel free to contribute your ideas, photos, store logos, adverts....just write me at:



cyndy said...

I worked in the Harvest House at the "Soda Fountain" in 1974!! It was my first job and I loved it...making rootbeer floats, Tulip Sundaes and Banana Splits. I was only 14 at the time...

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