Downtown Duluth Woolworth’s, 1987

I just pulled out the Attic files on two former pillars of downtown Duluth shopping – Woolworth’s and Glass Block. I’ll parcel out the photos and stories over the summer, starting with these items on the Woolworth’s lunch counter:

Nov. 2, 1987

Karen Richardson (left) and Bernice Dahl share a laugh over afternoon coffee at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, an institution since 1949. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

Counter culture survives at Woolworth’s

By Julie Gravelle, News-Tribune and Herald staff writer

"So whaddaya say we head over to the five-and-dime for a coupla sodas?"

"To the where? What’s a five-and-dime?"

The days of the dime-store bargain – the rock upon which F.W. Woolworth stores stood firm – are long gone, and the five Woolworth stores once open in Duluth have been whittled to one – downtown on Superior Street.

And, though prices have changed, you can still sip a soda at the lunch counter there.

When it was built in 1949, the four-story Woolworth building was known as "The Wonder Store" because of an advanced air cooling and heating system "to provide comfort during long, hard Minnesota winters." Displays at the time featured fountain pens, metal luggage and The New World of Plastic.

In its "new" lunch department, a tomato and bacon club sandwich was 40 cents, a complete turkey dinner 60 cents, a piece of chocolate layer cake 10 cents, and 25 cents would get a malted milk.

Even today, the sign on the storefront reminds the faithful: "Visit Our Lunchette."

At the back of the store, the aroma of french fries and the steady whine of a blender beckon to downtown shoppers and smokers chased from offices by the smoke-free generation. By 3 o’clock – the height of afternoon coffee break time – cigarette smoke trails from the row of red vinyl booths, as other customers prop their elbows on the 38-year-old wood-grain counter top, dreamily staring into space over a cup of brew.

Last-minute Halloween shoppers nearby look over orange plastic pumpkins, candy corns and glitter wigs.

Lunch counter manager Joan Nelson, who’s been on her job at the downtown Woolworth’s store for 12 years, scrubs the stools minutes before closing time. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

——————————

Behind the reflections of spotless stainless steel, Joan and Flo and Nancy are a flurry of activity preparing tomorrow’s meals. Joan Nelson has watched the changes in her 12 years working the counter.

"It used to be that the kids’ hangout was Woolworth’s – they’d come in and try on makeup and jewelry. We used to get a lot more activity from the kids in here until Central moved up the hill and the video games opened at the mall," she said, dropping a frozen fish patty into the fry vat.

Her salt and pepper hair is held neatly in place by a banana hair clip, and her gray skirt and vest are immaculate. A pin on her vest proclaims, "Customers FIRST!"

Flo Flick, a waitress for 44 years, said she is glad to be back at woork at Woolworth’s after retiring from another restaurant a few years ago.

"I was shopping in the store one day and the manager asked me if I wanted to come back part time, so here I am."

And Nancy Lindsey, a fry cook at Woolworth’s since 1969, met her husband behind the counter. "I used to serve him breakfasts and ham sandwiches," she said.


The downtown Woolworth’s, which was located at 106 W. Superior St., closed its doors in late 1993 / early 1994. The building now houses ZLB Plasma Services.

Here are a few more photos from the 1987 lunch counter story:

Waitress Kay LaPlante tidies up the counter after a customer. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

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A person’s booth is their own private world at the downtown Woolworth’s. (John Rott / News-Tribune & Herald)

A closer look at that newspaper shows that it’s the News-Tribune & Herald sports section, with coverage of the Minnesota Twins celebrating their 1987 World Series championship (that big photo is of manager Tom Kelly riding in the victory parade):


Here is one more photo, from March 29, 1986, showing the exterior:

Woolworth’s in downtown Duluth will get a new look soon as a branch of the downtown skywalk will reach into the second floor of the building. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

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18 thoughts on “Downtown Duluth Woolworth’s, 1987

  1. I remember going downtown with my father every Saturday. He would give me my allowance and I would go to Woolworth’s and have a wonderful time deciding what I was going to purchase. That was a big advanture for me -must have been in the mid 50′s.

    • Mr. Bolf,
      I remember walking into Woolworth’s in fall of 1986 to apply for a job! I had my 3 month old son with me! I doubt you remember me but I do remember talking with the manager. Just don’t remember the name! You did not hire me because of lack of job experience! lol Oh well… that never stopped me from coming in there to shop! It’s been since 1991 I haven’t been to Duluth!

  2. I WORKED AT WOOLWORTH IN 1951 WAS THE BEST TIME OF MY LIFE .MR WARNER WAS OUR MANAGER HE WAS WONDERFULL .WE GOT 70 CENTS AN HOUR AND THAT WAS GOOD MONEY FOR WHAT WE DID .

  3. Duluth need more stores to come back downtown,Woolworths & Jupiter along with Minnesota Woolen,Wahls,Orecks,Three Sisters,Maurices,Montgomery Ward,Sears,Music Land,Etc. were for the downtown area only canal park at this time is the business section for downtown and is not enough for even tourists.

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  8. Oh, yes! The hot cashews! I can still remember how they smelled. I remember Evening in Paris, too. I have an empty bottle that I keep just for nostalgia’s sake. I think I bought some for my mother every Christmas. Wasn’t she the lucky one?

  9. ahhhhhhhh…Woolworth’s.
    Hot air candy, warm cashews, Evening in Paris cologne in tiny, dark blue bottles, The Macaw or whatever it was that someone taught to say bad words, and the best club sandwiches around. Well actually, it was the only place I’d ever eaten a club sandwich at the time.
    The waitresses were all pretty friendly, unless you were there during school hours. Then you got the 3rd degree as to why you weren’t in school.

  10. Woolworths: One of my favorite “childhood in Duluth” memories. My mom used to take us Christmas shopping there. I had my first slice of pizza there. (Actually crust with tomato sauce and parmesan cheese sprinkled on it, but what did we know?) The lunch counter was great. They had the best strawberry pie on earth. (Or at least in Duluth.) You could buy goldfish or parakeets downstairs. My sisters and I always had our photos taken in the booth: four for a quarter. It was a fabulous place. I still miss it. Boo hoo.

  11. I also remember the lunch counter at Snyders. My Dad would take me there on Sundays for a soda. Downtown was a great place.

  12. Hey Jeannie McBeannie, Want some mashed potatoes and a coke at Woolworth after school? I’ll try
    NOT to spill it in your uniform pocket.

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