What Were 5 and 10 Stores?

Five and Dime Stores, also known as variety stores, were a type of retail store that offered a wide variety of low-priced merchandise. They were popular in the United States from the late 19th century through the mid-20th century, and were known for their affordable prices and vast selection of goods.

Here is a timeline of the five and dime store industry, along with some details about the major chains:

  • 1879: Frank Woolworth opens the first five and dime store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, called the “Great Five Cent Store.” The store sells items for five and ten cents.
  • 1890s: Woolworth expands his chain of stores throughout the United States and Canada, eventually becoming one of the largest and most successful five and dime store chains. The company later changes its name to F.W. Woolworth Company.
  • 1902: S.H. Kress opens his first store in Memphis, Tennessee. Kress’s stores focus on higher-quality merchandise than some of his competitors, with an emphasis on art and home decor.
  • 1912: The S.S. Kresge Company (later known as Kmart) opens its first store in Detroit, Michigan. The company expands rapidly throughout the United States and eventually becomes one of the largest retailers in the country.
  • 1919: J.G. McCrory opens his first store in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. The McCrory’s chain becomes known for its distinctive red and white storefronts.
  • 1930s-1940s: Five and dime stores reach their peak in popularity, with major chains like Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, and McCrory’s operating thousands of stores across the United States.
  • 1950s: Five and dime stores begin to face increasing competition from larger discount stores and department stores. Some chains attempt to rebrand or diversify their offerings, but many struggle to compete.
  • 1960s-1970s: Many five and dime store chains begin to close or rebrand as discount stores or other retail formats. Woolworth’s and McCrory’s both file for bankruptcy and eventually go out of business.
  • 1980s-present: Some five and dime store chains, such as Kmart, continue to operate under different retail formats. However, the original five and dime store concept has largely disappeared from the retail landscape.

While the original five and dime store concept is no longer widely used, some of the chains that emerged from the industry have continued to evolve and remain in operation. For example:

  • Woolworth’s: The original chain filed for bankruptcy in the 1990s and closed its remaining stores. However, the Woolworth’s brand continues to be used in other countries, such as the United Kingdom.
  • Kresge’s/Kmart: The S.S. Kresge Company rebranded as Kmart in the 1970s and became a major discount department store chain. Kmart filed for bankruptcy multiple times in the 2000s and 2010s, but continues to operate today.
  • Dollar General: While not a direct descendant of the original five and dime stores, Dollar General is a modern variety store chain that offers low-priced merchandise similar to the original concept. The chain was founded in 1939 and now operates over 17,000 stores in the United States.