Woolworth Closing Marks End Of an Era

Bringing to a close a time of inexpensive housewares, neighborly bonhomie and institutional familiarity, the Woolworth store on 633 Mass Ave. on Saturday closed its doors for the last time.

Cantabrigians who recalled getting everyday necessities and odd little knick-knacks from the old-fashioned five-and-dime store since it opened there in the 1920's lamented the demise of Woolworth, and with it the passing of an era.

For city residents who loved the stores of Main Street USA, the closing of Woolworth signified more than the demise of a single institution. It appeared to be part of a greater trend in Central Square in which the old must give way to the new.

Right now, dozens of old businesses are in danger of being pushed out a multi-million dollar developments.

"I think it would be a shame to rob Central Square of its individuality, and I think an eight or 10-story building is too big for that space," said Cambridge City Councillor Kathleen L. Born. "Now that Harvard Square is on its way to becoming a mall, Central Square is coming into its own as the heart of Cambridge, and it would be a shame to ruin the neighborhood feeling that it has."

End of an Era


Woolworth brought a lot of people to the Square for shoping," Savidara Levine, Co-owner of Central Square Florist on 653 Mass Ave., which has been owned by her husband's family since 1929, said. "But every thing changes."

Levine recalled seeing birds and fish amidst the burgeoning shelves of Woolworth or grabbing a quick bite to eat at the sit-down lunch counter, which closed in 1982.

"They used to sell birds, but I never got one," she said. "But you know what I did get? Goldfish."

"We'd make flower arrangements attached to take-out cartons with goldfish," Levine recalled.

In the end, a quaint American retailer that became a fixture in most traditional down-town strips gave way to efficient convenience chains like Wal-Mart or Target, offering only the bare necessities of everyday life.

This July, the Woolworth Corp. announced the foreclosure of its 400 nationwide stores after 117 years of business.

Woolworth was founded in 1879 by Frank Woolworth, who opened the Great 5 Cents Store in Utica, N.Y.

That same year, a larger store--the first traditional Woolworth--opened for business in Lancaster, Pa.

The former manager of the Cambridge Woolworth, a middle-aged man who preferred not to give his name, said the store will be converted to a Foot Locker by late November.

Levine said she believes the shoe store will attract "a younger more affluent clientele to Central Square."