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Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Five and Dime

Source: Local History and Archives, Hamilton Public Library

Start at the northwest corner of King and Hughson, and move slowly up the sidewalk, alongside the old Right House building. It helps if it’s a sunny day.

Peer across the street. And there on a slab of stone set into the brick wall, you’ll spot the outline of six big letters pulled down years ago – KRESGE.

That name was once on hundreds of stores across the continent. It belonged to Sebastien Spering Kresge, who got his start in 1899 in Detroit.
Link to the full article is at the bottom of this post

When I was growing up in the late 40's, early 50's I lived in a small city of about 35,000. Everything was centred in the downtown. The five & dime stores were Woolworth, Kresge, and Metropolitan, The higher end department stores were Eatons and the Right House. Around and among them were clustered all kinds of local stores as well as 4 theatres. You didn't have to travel to find things you needed or wanted no matter what the quality you were looking for or the price you could afford. That, of course, was a function of its time. While there were lots of cars many families, including mine, didn't own one, so the centralised businesses made sense. People went downtown to shop. Saturdays the sidewalks were packed, even more so because the open-air farmers' market was there as well.

The roots of the changes that happened are pretty well the same as in other cities no matter the size - growth, population shift and increased mobility. More people meant that they lived farther from the downtown. When we moved out of the city in 1952 we ended up in the outskirts surrounded by market gardens with a handful of neighbours. By 1958 the tar & chip street had become 4 paved lanes and there was a high school beside us. Plazas sprouted up with stores like Woolco and K-mart, followed by enclosed malls. No one went to the centre of the city anymore because there was no need; just hop in your car, park it for free and shop to your heart's content at the new downtown.

One by one the five and dimes closed as did the department stores. I think the Right House lasted the longest, eventually moving to one of the malls before the company closed its doors. Woolworth, Kresge, Metropolitan, and Eatons, the iconic Canadian department store, are also gone. So too are their replacements Woolco and K-mart. Relics of the past that only exist in photos and in memories stirred by newspaper articles.

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