Life in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte
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I was 16 in 1969 when I got a job at Woolworths in Davis Square. I was hired as a stock boy but graduated to the luncheonette counter. WT Grant and FW Woolworth were 5 and 10 cent stores, or “five and dimes” in the square. Those are the two, along with Savel’s in Ball Square, that I grew up with.
I can’t remember the names of the guy and the two women who worked at Savel’s, but I can still picture what they looked like. They were always smiling and friendly. When I was 6, our upstairs neighbor Lenny Scott gave me an 1882 silver dollar for my birthday. I went down Savel’s and bought my mother an apron. My dad went down and got the silver dollar back and gave the guy a dollar bill to cover it. That’s a nice memory. An apron for a buck! How could you go wrong ?
Back in the 1880’s, when Woolworths was started, many of the items in the store cost 5 and ten cents. By the time I was kid, the prices weren’t quite that low but they were drastically cheaper than prices of today, that’s for sure, not to mention a wider variety of products. At Woolworth’s you could get yarn, nylons, toys, clothes, a grilled cheese and a turtle. So what if the turtle only lived for a week! And how cool were all the fish and the birds in the pet section? I loved when a parakeet or a canary would get loose and fly all around the store.
A very nice guy named Mr. Rose was the manager of Woolworths in Davis Square before I worked there (mid to late 60’s). Do you remember the lady with the jet black hair and bright red lipstick who worked there? Her name was Mary, and she very rarely smiled. She was the surveillance camera back then. No one could swipe anything when she was around. Mr. Rose moved over to Fields Stationary and I believe Mary went with him. Mr. Rose was a nice guy. I’ll never forget the look on his face as I drove by him in the aisle on my Sting Ray bike with the banana seat. See, I was dared to ride my bike in the front door, and all the way through the store, and out the back entrance. What a punk.
I was hired as a stock boy in 1969. On the weekends I worked the lunch counter and it was great! I used to put the prices in the balloons that you popped for sundaes. The grilled cheeses I made for myself were huge. Remember those shiny metal cone shaped drink holders? How about that smell of hot popcorn that filled Grants? The smell of freshly popped popcorn also reminds me of the old JM Fields store in Medford.
Kresge’s in Porter Square was another of those old time five-and-dimes that we used to shop in. Back then kids would go in and put 50 cents into the cigarette machine and get a pack of butts. I also recall the boiled ham for 99 cents a pound. There was also a Woolworths in Central Square in Cambridge. Dukes in Teele Square was also mentioned, though I’m not sure it was an official 5 and 10. Kneeland’s on Highland and Lowell, also. Santa also had a perch in Grant’s at Christmas time.
Cassette tapes were replacing the bulky 8-tracks and I remember buying Best Of Traffic in 1969 (with my employee’s discount). Dear Mr. Fantasy was on that album so now whenever I hear that song I think of my working days at Woolies, as we called it. I even got my friend Phil a job there.
Who can forget the big red FW Woolworth sign in Davis Square? And for those of you who don’t remember five and ten stores just think of a more personable, smaller, Target store.
In 1969 Woolworths could sell you a stamp for 6 cents, a comic book for 15 cents and a portable cassette player for $9.99. I remember buying boxes of Rit clothes dye to make, you guessed it, tie-dyed t-shirts. There was nothing better than spending my day off at Woolworths. I’d start off by listening to a rocking cassette, while wearing a new tie-dyed shirt, then popping a balloon for a 10 cent hot fudge sundae (by the way, I stuffed mostly 5 and 10 cent prices in the balloons). Then for laughs we’d watch a frantic canary fly around the store bumping into mirrors. All this while Mary, the human surveillance camera, bagged kids for trying to steal Hot Wheel cars.
Notice: No canaries were harmed in the writing of this story.