When Did Woolworth’s Begin?
Woolworth’s began in 1879 when Frank Winfield Woolworth (1852-1919) opened a “five cent” store in Utica, New York with the financial help of W.H. Moore, a former employer. That store was unsuccessful, but later in the year he opened a “five and ten cent” store (also known as five-and-dime stores or dimestores) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with a larger selection of goods to sell.
It was arguably the most successful American and international five-and-dime business, setting trends and creating the modern retail model which stores follow worldwide today. His idea of selling a wide variety of merchandise at two fixed prices proved so popular that he was soon opening stores in other cities. Similar stores were started by Woolworth’s brother, C.S. Woolworth, his cousin, Seymour H. Knox, and his friends, F.M. Kirby and E.P. Charlton.
All were merged in 1912 into the F.W. Woolworth Company. When Frank Woolworth died at Glen Cove, Long Island on April 8, 1919, his company owned more than 1,000 stores and his personal fortune amounted to many millions of Dollars.
The great Woolworth empire expanded throughout the world, and the famous 60-storey Woolworth building in New York, designed by Cass Gilbert in 1930, is regarded as one of the most beautiful early skyscrapers. This building was entirely paid for in cash. It was completed in 1913 and was the tallest building in the world until 1930. It also served as the company’s headquarters until it was sold by the F.W. Woolworth Company’s successor, the Venator Group (now Foot Locker), in 1998.
Despite growing to be one of the largest retail chains in the world through most of the 20th century, increased competition led to its decline beginning in the 1980s. The chain went out of business in July 1997, when the company decided to focus on the Foot Locker division and renamed itself Venator Group. By 2001, the company focused exclusively on the sporting goods market, changing its name to the present Foot Locker Inc (NYSE: FL).
Retail chains using the Woolworth name survive in Austria, Germany, Mexico, and South Africa, and, until the start of 2009, in the United Kingdom. The similarly-named Woolworth’s supermarkets in Australia and New Zealand are operated by Australia’s largest retail company Woolworths Limited, a separate company with no historical links to the F.W. Woolworth Company or Foot Locker, Inc. However, Woolworth’s Limited did use the name from the original company, as it had not been registered or trademarked in Australia at the time.
Similarly, in South Africa, Woolworths Holdings Limited operates a Marks & Spencer-like store and uses the Woolworth name, but has never had any connection with the American company. The property development company Woolworth Group in Cyprus began life as an offshoot of the British Woolworth’s company, originally operating Woolworth’s department stores in Cyprus. In 2003, these stores were rebranded Debenhams, but the commercial property arm of the business retained the Woolworth’s name.