F. W. Woolworth Company

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F.W. Woolworth Company

<tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align:center; padding:16px 0 16px 0;">Image:Woolworth.jpg</td></tr>

Type Defunct,
Five-and-dime store
Founded 1878
Headquarters Image:Flag of the United States.svg New York City, New York, USA

<tr><th style="text-align:right; padding-right:0.75em;">Industry</th><td>Retail</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align:right; padding-right:0.75em;">Products</th><td>Clothing, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, electronics and housewares.</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align:right; padding-right:0.75em;">Website</th><td>http://www.footlocker.com (Company name changed in 2001)</td></tr>

The F. W. Woolworth Company (often referred to as "Woolworth's") was a retail company that was one of the original American five-and-dime stores. The first Woolworth's store was founded in 1878 by Frank Winfield Woolworth. Despite growing to be one of the largest retail chains in the world through most of the 20th century, competition led to a decline beginning in the 1980s. In 1997, F. W. Woolworth Company converted itself into a sporting retailer, closing its remaining retail stores operating under the "Woolworth's" brand name and renaming itself Venator Group. By 2001, the firm focused exclusively into the sporting goods market, changing its name to the present Foot Locker Inc (NYSE: FL).

Chains using the Woolworth name survive in the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, and South Africa. The similarly named Woolworths supermarkets in Australia and New Zealand are operated by Woolworths Limited, a separate company with no historical links to the F. W. Woolworth Company.

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[edit] F. W. Woolworth

Image:WoolworthsSelfService.jpg
Door handle of a mid-20th century Woolworth's store.

The F.W. Woolworth Co. was among the first five-and-dime stores, which sold discounted general merchandise at fixed prices, usually five or ten cents, undercutting the prices of local merchants. It was also one of the first stores to put merchandise out for the shopping public to handle, select, and purchase. In earlier shops, merchandise was kept behind the counter and customers presented the clerk with a list of items they wished to buy.

After working in a dry goods store in Watertown, New York, Frank Winfield Woolworth opened his first “Woolworth’s” store in Utica, New York in 1878. That store failed within a year. He opened a second store on June 21, 1879 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. This store became a success. Frank Woolworth brought his brother Charles Sumner Woolworth into the business and together they, and others, began to open more stores. The stores were often opened in partnership with other businesspeople. The Woolworths also entered into partnerships with “friendly rivals”, who operated independently but co-operated in order to maximize their purchasing power for their inventories.

In 1910, Frank Woolworth commissioned the construction of the Woolworth Building in New York City. This building was entirely paid for with cash. The building was completed in 1913 and was the tallest building in the world until 1930. It served as the company’s headquarters until it was sold by the F.W. Woolworth Company’s successor, the Venator Group, in 1998.

By 1911, there were six chains of affiliated stores operating in the United States and Canada. That year, Frank and Charles incorporated the F. W. Woolworth Company and through a merger brought all 596 the stores together under one corporate entity. One of the "friendly rival" predecessor chains included several stores initially opened as Woolworth & Knox stores starting as early as September 20, 1884 as well as S. H. Knox & Co. 5 & 10 Cent Stores opened after an 1889 buyout by his cousin, Seymour H. Knox I. Knox' chain grew to 98 U.S. and 13 Canada stores by the time of the corporate consolidation in 1911. Fred Kirby added 96 stores, Earle Charlton added 35, Charles Sumner Woolworth added 15, and William Moore added 2.[1]

Image:Woolworth store.jpg
A Woolworth store

The stores eventually incorporated lunch counters and served as general gathering places, a precursor to the modern shopping mall food court. A Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina became the setting for a significant event during the civil rights movement (see below).

The Woolworth’s concept was widely copied, and five-and-ten-cent stores (also known as five-and-dime stores) were a fixture in American downtowns through the 1960s, and became anchors for suburban strip malls by the mid 1970s. The criticisms that the five-and-dime stores drove local merchants out of business would repeat themselves in the early 21st century, when big box discount stores became popular. However, many five and dime stores were locally owned or franchised, as are dollar stores today.

In the 1960s, the five-and-dime concept evolved into the larger discount store. In 1962, Woolworths founded a discount chain called “Woolco”. This was the same year as its competitors opened similar “discount” chains: the S.S. Kresge Co. opened Kmart; Dayton Company opened Target; and Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart.

By Woolworth’s 100th anniversary in 1979, it had become the largest department store chain in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The company began to open a number of other retail chains, most notably Kinney Shoe, Northern Reflections apparel shops and Best Of Times, a watch and clock chain, and Foot Locker.

However, the Woolworth department store chain had moved away from its five-and-dime roots, eventually focusing on its speciality stores. It was unable to compete with other chains that had usurped its market share. While successful in Canada, the Woolco chain closed in the United States in 1983. Woolco survived in Canada until 1994, when the majority of the stores there were sold to Wal-Mart. The locations that were not purchased by Wal-Mart were converted to discount stores called “The Bargain Shop”. On July 17, 1997, Woolworths closed its remaining department stores in the US and changed its corporate name to Venator.

Analysts at the time cited the lower prices of the big discount stores and the expansion of grocery stores to carry most of the items five-and-ten-cent stores carried as factors in the stores' lack of success in the late 20th century. In that same year Wal-Mart replaced Woolworth on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

[edit] Transition to Foot Locker, Inc.

In 1999, Venator moved out of the Woolworth building to offices on 34th Street. On October 20, 2001, the company changed names again; this time, it took the name of its top retail performer and became Foot Locker, Inc., with specialization in athletic clothing and footwear.

[edit] Boycott

On February 1, 1960, four African-American students sat down at a segregated lunch counter in a Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth's store. They were refused service, touching off six months of sit-ins and economic boycotts that were a landmark of the US civil rights movement. In 1993, an eight foot section of the lunch counter was donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The cafeteria with the remaining portion of the counter remains in the building. The location of that Woolworth's is now scheduled to become a Civil Rights Museum (although several setbacks have delayed its opening).

Note that this segregation was due to local laws and customs of the time, not company policy of F.W. Woolworth's. Woolworth's lunch counters in the North were never segregated.

[edit] International users of the Woolworths name

Image:Woolworths shop frontage.jpg
A Woolworths store in the UK

Woolworths Group plc was the British unit of Woolworths, but has been separate since 1982.

Woolworths Limited is the largest retail corporation in Australia, operating a variety of supermarket and other retail chains in Australia and Woolworths Supermarkets (New Zealand), yet in no way connected to the original Woolworths banner.

Woolworths is an upmarket retail chain in South Africa selling goods of a comparable quality to the Marks & Spencer stores in the UK.

Woolworth GmbH was the German unit of Woolworths, but has been separate since 1998 as a result of the original firm's change in focus.

Woolworth Mexicana operates a chain of small variety stores in Mexico.

Until the end of 2003, F. W. Woolworth & Co (Cyprus) Ltd was the leading chain of upmarket department stores on the island with branches in all the major cities. The Cyprus company had its roots in the American parent Woolworths in the 1950s, which used its British arm to spread Woolworths stores throughout the British Empire. Initially there was only one Woolworths in Cyprus, in the capital Nicosia, but in 1985 the company was sold to the local businessman Nicolas Shacolas (now OBE) who rapidly opened new stores in the island's other cities. These were far more upmarket than the original British Woolworths and Woolworths in Cyprus sold a range of designer adult clothing, perfumes and other luxury goods, as well as running food supermarkets in the stores. At the end of 2003 the Shacolas Group reorganised the Woolworths company by splitting it in two, effectively severing the vestigial ties it had with the British company. The running of the department stores passed to a company called Ermes Department Stores Public Limited, and after an initial rebranding of the stores as Ermes, they were renamed a year later Debenhams. The ownership of the land and property, as well as responsibility for developing new commercial sites, remained with F. W. Woolworth & Co (Cyprus) Ltd, which was renamed Woolworths (Cyprus) Properties Public Limited in 2005. This is the only part of the Shacolas Group to retain the Woolworths name. Woolworths (Cyprus) Properties Public Limited is now one of the leading developers of commerical shopping centres in Cyprus, with increasing interests elsewhere in southern Europe and the Middle East.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

F. W. Woolworth Company

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