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Woolworth’s closure marks ‘end of an era’

The shutdown means progress – but at the expense of good memories, some say.

EDDIE NORTH-HAGER Citizen Staff Writer


That’s what some Tucsonans, with a twinge of regret, are calling the closure of the last of the 400 Woolworth’s stores across the nation.

”They had ice cream cones for a nickel,” said Tucsonan John Willis, 71, remembering a lifetime of shopping at the department store. ”I could even get a masonry bit for my drill there.

”It’s the end of an era. Progress, I guess. I’m surprised, really, it hasn’t closed before now.”

In Tucson, the last F.W. Woolworth’s closed three years ago after 33 years in El Con Mall. The downtown store closed in 1979 after 21 years.

Globe is home to the last Woolworth’s in Arizona. It’s slated to close within a few months when the inventory runs out, according to employees.

The word ”progress” wasn’t said with a smile last week by people shopping here at a Wal-Mart, Woolworth’s apparent heir.

”Back in Illinois, it was the big thing to do, go to the five-and-dime,” said 79-year-old Elsie Patarich of Green Valley. ”I think it’s a shame something like that is going out of business. But it’s progress, I guess.”

She said she could pick up cosmetics, things for the kitchen and other inexpensive items. Two years ago, she returned to the one of her youth.

”It was real junky,” Patarich said. ”I was disappointed. It wasn’t the Woolworth I remember.”

She decided her memories were better.

”We would get their potato chips,” Patarich said. ”They would be so greasy, but it was great. They made them right there.

”The kids today are missing out on a lot of things. I see kids (at Wal-Mart) but it’s totally different.”

Retirees Irene Gallardo, 65, and Dutch Blough, 71, grew up in the Armory Park neighborhood together.

Woolworth’s ”used to be downtown, and everybody went there,” Gallardo said. ”I bought knickknacks there or whatever. It’s sad really.”

Blough recalled: ”I had a truck and used to bring in the merchandise from the railroad” to Woolworth’s. ”The five-and-dime is gone. Another thing is gone. It had a lot of nostalgia.”

Woolworth’s was also a part of U.S. history.

The Woolworth’s counter in Greensboro, N.C. – where four black college students in 1960 defied the ”whites only” sign – sparked sit-ins across the United States, including Tucson.

The counter is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Tucsonan Alice Papcun, who turned 81 this week, was one of the civil rights activists.

”Here (Woolworth’s was) not as intransigent in their segregation policy,” Papcun recalled in a phone interview. ”They felt we were unjust in targeting them, but our answer was, ‘You are a part of a corporation making money across the nation. You are making profits using their name.’ So we felt justified.”

She said they had sit-ins and some informational picket lines in the early 1960s.

”We also had people go in and sit down at the counter,” Papcun said. ”They were not belligerent, and neither were we.”

But Woolworth’s brings back fond memories for Papcun as well.

”It’s a part of Americana,” Papcun said. ”I don’t know what store takes its place. It’s such a different period. What a whole different society we’re living in.


F. W. Woolworth’s, shown above in 1978, was a fixture downtown for 21 years until it closed in 1979. Today, a parking garage (left) occupies the building on Congress Street where the department store once thrived.

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