What was it about the luncheonette at Woolworth’s that brought many communities around the nation together, including the Woolworth’s lunch counter on the plaza in cozy little Santa Fe?
F.W. Woolworth was the retail phenomenon of the twentieth century. The mass-market shop sold factory-made goods at rock bottom prices. It was the first brand to go global, building to more than 3,000 near-identical stores across the world.
In the 1950s most large city centre Woolworth stores offered hot meals and drinks throughout the day. Where space allowed they had a large restaurant, which some stores called the Cafeteria. If space was tight they had a smaller Tea Bar. These were the equivalents of the Americans called the Woolworth Lunch Counter or Soda Fountain. For many shoppers this was an oasis in the midst of a day’s shopping.
It was at a Woolworth’s Lunch Counter, on February 1, 1960, when four African American college students sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their passive resistance and peaceful sit-down demand helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South.
On day one of the sit inEzell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond leave the Woolworth store after the first sit-in on February 1, 1960.
On the second day of the Greensboro sit-in, Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain are joined by William Smith and Clarence Henderson at the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Part of its magic of Woolworth’s was an ability to adapt to fit into different local communities and to ‘go native’, without sacrificing its identity. Shoppers in the UK considered ‘Woolies’ as British as fish and chips, while Americans continued to call the chain ‘the five-and-ten’ more than sixty years after the limits were dropped.
But, having risen like a meteor, all the way to the top, it faded into a peaceful retirement in the USA and Canada in the 1990s.