Frank W. Woolworth, Pioneer Of The Five And Dime Stores

Frank W. Woolworth had a keen eye for business. The forerunner of the clearance table today--was quick to realize that a store of nothing but nickel priced merchandise would attract the frugal housewives.

Frank Woolworth was born in 1852 in the state of New York. He came from a line of farmers. Frank's father owned 108 acres for growing crops like potatoes, and eight cows for making dairy products.

Frank followed in line. After graduation at the age of sixteen, he worked fulltime on the family farm. But he dreamed of indoor work. Frank Woolworth wanted to be a merchant.

That's exactly what he became, even if it meant working the first three months without pay. He started with Augsbury & Moore, a leading drygoods sore, as low-man on the totem pole, sweeping floors, cleaning up. Over the next six years he worked his way up to clerk, ten dollars a week, a lovely Canadian wife, a four-acre farm and the birth of his first child.

And a new fad started--the five-cent table, a forerunner of a clearance table. Merchants would take their leftover merchandise and mark it down to a nickel. Then it would go on the five-cent table. Housewives would snatch up the bargains, and end up buying regularly-priced merchandise as well.

Eventually the fad died down. But Frank believed the idea could flourish. What if there were a store that sold nothing but five-cent merchandise?

Frank opended his first small store in 1879 with 300 borrowed dollars. "Great Five Cent Store," the flyers he passed around read. The store did wonderfully--for two weeks. Then business fell off and the store failed.

Frank didn't think the five-cent concept was wrong, just limiting. He needed access to more than five-cent merchandise. One month later he opened the first five-and-ten in a new town--Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This store succeeded, and two successive stores followed, both of which failed.

Frank didn't let that stop him. He opened another store in Scranton, and started to bring his brother and other family members into key positions to run the stores.

Frank soon needed to buy more items in quantity, and a chain of stores would allow him to do that. He added candy, started to make excursions to Europe for more goods, and kept expanding. Frank did all the buying himself. With the influx of immigrants coming to the United States, the country was ripe for stores like Woolworth's.

In 1911, holdings were consolidated into one company. A $65 million dollar corporation was formed and nearly one hundred employees became millionaires.

Frank W. Woolworth died in April, 1919, at the age of sixty-six, having lived the American dream.

Though tragedy marked his later years, he is a model of early American business and industry.

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