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:


Saturday 2 February 2008

A Day Out In Boston In 1968... Part 3

Part 3

Before I carry on with a typical shopping day in 1968, I would like to add a little note.
By the time we finished in Jordan Marsh, my mother and nana had boxes in their arms. Most stores still offered cardboard boxes, large handled shopping bags or paper bags all embossed with their logo. A few stores had just begun using a form of plastic carrier bag but they were not very common yet. Some of the more durable shopping bags were offered in coin operated dispensers near most of the outer doors to the big stores.

Jordan Marsh had a wonderful logo at this time. The logo I recall had a pencil style drawing of old Boston with the words Jordan Marsh Company printed bellow. I would be very excited to have some of these old Boston store logos scanned and sent to me for posting.
It would make a super archive to add to over time and view! Have a look in your attic or basements…you may have some logos we need!

Back to 1968:
We would walk down Washington Street back toward Winter Street and look for a place to have lunch. Two nice and not too expensive spots were The Brass Lantern across from Jordan Marsh on Washington Street or The Iron Rail on Winter Street. Both had a clam platter with French fries and cold slaw with a buttered roll that I enjoyed very much. Sometimes we would walk up towards RH Stern’s on Temple Place and have lunch at Thompson’s Spa. All these places had table seating and nice family friendly atmosphere.

**I believe that Thompson’s Spa lasted until about 1976 and sat vacant for a while. With the demise of RH Stern’s around this same time, I think Thompson’s Spa had lost vital shopping traffic. The Brass Lantern and Iron Rail carried on a bit longer but both soon became fast food Chinese restaurants in the early 1980’s.

Having lunch was an important ritual during these trips and it was chance to practice my newly acquired table manners.
After we ate, the next stop was further up Washington Street past Filene’s…not in!
Nana was a Jordan’s shopper and past employee and Filene’s was just not on her list. Very old fashioned and loyal!
I would not step foot in Filene’s until about 1977 and that was eye opening. More about that another time.
Grant’s 5 and 10 was like Kresge’s with two floors connected by an escalator. I liked Grant’s and I think it still had a soda-lunch counter still on the street floor. We would poke around in Grant’s for bit and then cross Washington to look at the big project. I liked cranes and construction sites since my dad was a builder. In 1968 a major project was going on. Raymond’s Department Store on the corner of Washington and Franklin Streets was being torn down and Franklin Street was being moved over to join up with Bromfield Street. The Raymond’s lot was becoming smaller and the plaza or park on the side of Filene’s was being created. It was a large scale project lasting from mid 1967 to the Autumn of 1970.
I shall write about the new super sized 1970
F. W. Woolworth’s store in its own update.
I would spend time watching the project and asking mother or nana questions about what the men were doing.
We would end our trip with iced teas at Neisner’s wonderful lunch counter located on the Bromfield Street side of the store. If iced tea was not in season, I had a Raspberry Lime Ricky instead. All the sodas back then were made with syrup and tasted great!
Neisner’s was a large Woolworth’s type of store built in an “L” shape with large main doors on both Washington and Bromfield Streets. I loved to look at the toys located in the basement of Neisner’s. Neisner’s was a chain store
like Grants and Kresge’s but I liked it the best of all.

** The mid 1970’s marked the end to most of these 5 and 10 type stores in the downtown area.
Neisner’s held on until about 1977 when Wendy’s Hamburgers took the Washington Street side over.
The Bromfield Street side became Sherman’s
Electrical Supply.
Grant’s went on until about 1976 when it made way for Barnes and Noble.
Kresge’s was part of K-Mart and lasted on Washington Street until about 1985 or so.
It went down hill and became a bit tatty before it closed it’s doors in the 1980’s.

We would walk up Bromfield Street and make our way back to Park Street Station. I can recall the music of the Harri Krishna dancers and drummers that always seemed to be near the subway entrance in those days. The music would fade away as we rode down to the platform to board a streetcar for Beacon Street and home.
It had been a busy and very happy day out for me!
PS.......Please remember to visit The Bostonian Society. The above 1967 sample image of Raymond's demolition is from their vast collection. Worth supporting their fine work!