Butler County Times Gazette
  • Through the Front Door: Days of dime stores and delightful finds

  • Let’s visit about the dime stores of our past
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  • Good morning my lovely neighbors! Today, I’m feeling nostalgic so let’s visit about the dime stores of our past. If you’re a baby boomer like me, you know all too well the pure excitement and joy of a trip to the local dime store! Right here in Augusta we had several, including Ben Franklin, Kibbey's Variety Store, McCaslin, and Heckerman!
    I remember, as you probably do, shopping outings, whether to treat ourselves, buy a birthday gift or find something special for an adored teacher. The dime store was the place to shop for gifts, including wonderful little china and ceramic treasures. Today, these have become so desirable for decorating our very grown-up homes. Recently, I purchased a lovely ceramic piece with a trio of cardinals, with the original Woolworths’ price tag, at Brick Street Bake Shoppe in the antique area. In those simpler days, a trip to the dime store could help you do just about anything in terms of decorating or fashion.
    Memories abound
    Dimes stores are a profound part of our history. Look what happened at the very famous lunch counter in 1960 in Greensboro, N.C. Civil rights was changed forever, and now that counter resides in the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., as a symbol of that movement. Or, who can forget the episode of “Leave it to Beaver” when the Beav buys his mom, June, a blouse for her birthday with the Eiffel Tower on the back from the local dime store. Today, we might think, “What a whacky piece of fun clothing.” Back then, however, it was regarded as almost indecent—oh, times do change!
    I feel very sad for you younger readers who may never know the joy of a true blue dime store. Fortunately, you can still find a few that are darn close in Branson, Missouri or Kansas City, Mo., as well as several other locations around the country. Check out the Five and Dime General Store, which will no doubt be packed—and I do mean packed, with people and product.
    Starting in the late 19th century, dime stores were also called “five and ten cent stores” and “variety stores.” Frank Winfield Woolworth, the king of the dime store, learned how to run these unique businesses in Watertown, N.Y., back in 1879. He actually got his start running a five-cent booth within another store. When Mr. Woolworth opened his first store in Utica, N.Y., it failed, but later he was very successful with his second attempt in Lancaster, Pa. Woolworths became the primary variety store in the United States and Great Britain.
    Dime stores looked to department stores and virtually duplicated their selling concepts at much friendlier pricing. They gave the consumer everything to furnish a home with dishes, table linens, curtains, dinnerware, glassware and, yes, all the pretties. Lovely little birds, vases, clocks, ashtrays…if you needed something to decorate with, the dime store had it. Oh, they were smart! The dime store managers knew how to coach people into their merchandise world. Put in a lunch counter, enjoy a quick lunch and shop! At one time, Woolworths was the leading seller of restaurant food in the world. Even though these wonderful mercantile are mostly gone—the last Woolworths closed in 1997—I know many of us have fond memories of them.
    Page 2 of 3 - Displaying your dime store treasures
    So, collections and keepsakes are what we are left with, and now those items purchased for pennies are valued at much more. And these lovely dime store pieces deserve to be showcased in our homes. Some of the most sought-after pieces are stamped “Occupied Japan” pieces because they were made from 1945 to 1952 in post-WWII Japan, which was still occupied by the United States. To check the authenticity of these pieces, rub the “Occupied Japan” or “Made in Occupied Japan” stamp with a bit of nail polish remover. If it stays put, it is the real thing.
    Dime store figurine offerings included lovely Victorian ladies and gentlemen decked out in the costumes of the day; some even feature striking lace work. Select pieces that blend beautifully with your china pattern, and then place these handsome figurines among the china in your china cabinet. When it comes time to set a magnificent table, add these beauties to the table scape. If you have indulged in many, consider setting place cards in front of them for seating arrangements. It will surely initiate a conversation and start your dinner party off on a very pleasant  and elegant note.
    From this same period you will find an abundance of Dutch and Asian influenced ceramic and china pieces. Both are so charming and beautifully executed. These pieces came in engaging color palettes, from wonderful primary colors to watered-down colors to bright blue and brilliant white, almost Delft like. With their charming color combinations, these pieces can find perfect places to reside in your home. On a stack of antique books is always a wonderful place for one of these objects. The Asian pieces were done in color combinations so in vogue at present. They could easily be a part of a sleek contemporary home or office, allowing them to reign once again. Or, place one on a side table with a lamp, tissue box and one other piece. Perhaps a powder room becomes its own exhibit of wonderful Dutch pieces. Shelves lined with these captivating sweet pieces could be a surprising treat. I can just imagine a pretty blue and white check wallpaper as the backdrop for a shallow bookcase loaded with Dutch influenced beauties. Store your extra toilet tissue-of course tied up with ribbon in a Delft blue and white planter. Remember gorgeous if I haven't mentioned it lately-it is all about the  tiny details! A series of Dutch girl and boy kissing figurines or charming ladies and gents carry water buckets lining the shelves. What a wonderful treat for a guest to enjoy while touching up their hair!
    Dime stores offered lovely detailed bird figurines, from tiny to tall, dogs of every breed and cats as well. Starting a collection of these lovely pieces brings such a simple, graceful joy into your home. If you weren’t around for the real deal, then consider adding a few pieces to your home’s personality from days gone by. Dime stores were a great part of my life as a kid, and I know many of you had amazing experiences as well.
    Page 3 of 3 - Have a lovely week!
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