5 &10s, A Street Car Named Desire & more
Whether you call them a 5 & 10 Cent Store, a Dime Store as my grandmother called them, a Nickle and Dime Store or a Variety Store they all were a type of business that catered to families by selling inexpensive household items. It began with Woolworth’s in 1897, when Frank Winfield Woolworth opened his first five-cent store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Woolworth’s was the first but soon many others followed. J.J. Newberry was opened in 1911 and by 1954 Newberry had 475 stores. There were many other 5 & 10 cent stores in our area including Ben Franklin, Furlow and National. Some had several floors, others had luncheon counters where cherry cokes were a specialty.
My grandmother, Doris Twomey Wescoat worked in a Hammonton Dime Store in 1929. She told me she stood behind a counter where there were gloves, handkerchiefs, scarves and purses. When a buyer wanted to see an item, she had to hand it to the customer and make sure the display was always perfect. She said that each counter had an attendant, the glass was always sparkling, and the wooden floors were brightly polished.
Hammonton had several 5 & 10 Cent Stores over the years including Newberry’s and National, but my favorite was Furlow 5 & 10. I had the chance to speak with Bill Roeschen who was the manager of Furlow from 1968 to 1980. Furlow sold stationary, kids clothing, toys, paint, candy, kitchen and sewing items. Bill said his biggest customers were women buying household items and that many women who worked in the clothing shops in town would come in to buy yarn, fabric, notions and patterns to make their own clothing. Hammonton’s Furlow 5 & 10’s sewing department outsold all the other Furlow stores.
Bill told a story about an Italian family new to our country who lived above his store. One evening he was called at home because their little son had been locked in the store after hours. What a wonder it must have been to be alone with all those toys, but also frightening.
Furlow 5 & 10 occupied a lot of my time in the late 1960s and 70s. I remember a sale where old 45 records were being sold 5 for $1. They were from the 1950s and I had no idea who the singers were, but I bought 10 by the sound of their titles. One was a funny song about a car’s gas pedal getting stuck, “Beep, Beep by the Playmates.” Another was about Fred being kissed by seven girls, “Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat” by Paul Evans. Great memories.
I spent hours looking through the pattern books, bought decals for my students to soak in water and slide off onto tiles as hotplates, bought 10 cent prizes for school games and in 1974 I bought fish at Furlow for my first classroom. Bill said that selling fish was his idea and made quite a bit of money because every 5-cent fish needed a bowl, accessories and food.
In the late 1970s my sixth grade class was having a January pool party at the YMCA in Vineland. I was told the girls had to wear bathing caps, which of course no one had. How was I going to find 15 bathing caps on such short notice? I went to Furlow and asked Bill. He smiled and said, “Let me check in the basement.” Soon he came up with a box of bathing caps, decorated with big plastic flowers and ruffles. They probably were 20 years old, but they saved our pool party.
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My classmate and childhood neighbor, Don Delessio, helped me while recalling the 5 & 10 cent stores on Bellevue. He also told me about a Back the Blue Jeep Drive he participated in last week in Gloucester County. They began at the Deptford Mall with 200 Jeeps and 100 motorcycles, then drove by police stations all over South Jersey. Don said hundreds of people cheered them on along the highways. What a great way to show support to our devoted police officers.
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In the 1951 movie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois, played by Vivien Leigh, is losing touch with reality after being tormented by her brother-in-law, Stanley played by Marlon Brando. She laments to her psychiatrist, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Such a sad woman.
In this time of COVID-19, I realize that we all depend and need strangers for kindness. We need to see smiles. With social distancing and masks, we can’t read facial expressions. We pass a stranger and we don’t know if behind the mask is a friend or foe. Or maybe a person who needs to see our smile. I wonder if our smiles will come back when the masks are gone?
Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School Librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.