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)
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)