Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

From Dime Stores to Dollar Stores

S. H. Kress logoLon Jones just reminded us of one more Southernism not included in our Glossary of Quaint Southernisms: tin sin stow, i.e. a ten-cents store, also called five-and-dimes in their day. In my town of birth and up-bringing, Fayetteville, NC, we had our choice of Kress’sMcCrory’s, or Woolworth’s. Other cities had their Kresge’s, Ben Franklin, Murphy’s, Neisner’s and, no doubt, others. If you are older than 50, you probably had your own favorite.

Lon admitted that both terms are “rather dated” and he is right. This compound word does date Lon for the correlates of the ten-cents stores of the 30s-50s today are the dollar stores, whose name perfectly reflects the 1000% inflation rate since the heyday of the five-and-dimes.

The five-and-dimes kept their prices low by hiring drop-outs and recent high school grads to man (or girl) the counters. When I was in high school, my friends and I quickly learned that the sales personnel in these stores could be rather naive. To identify the naive ones and for a few chuckles, we would go in after school and ask for such mythical items as a No. 3 sky-hook or a 36″ shelf stretcher just to see their reactions.

Some would tell us that these items were out of stock, on order or not. Better yet, some would tell us they weren’t sure about these items and ask that we wait while they checked with the manager.

Well, the manager was brought into these snicker-filled situations one time too many and my friends and I eventually found ourselves on the Kress’s persona non grata list. You might find it odd that a dime-store would have such a list but I’m here to tell you that it was an effective one. My friends and I soon found ourselves escorted out of the store as soon as we set foot through its portals.

Maybe that’s why these stores went out of business: we often dropped in for legitimate purchases of non-mythical items.

3 Responses to “From Dime Stores to Dollar Stores”

  1. Stargzer Says:

    We had one nearby (not one of the chains as I recall) in West Hyattsville before Prince Georges Plaza was built. My father used to say it was the only five and dime where the cheapest thing was a quarter. I bought my grandmother a tree-top ornament (a spire, not a star or an angel) there for Christmas one year. It later became a TV repair shop and the last time I looked it was a Hispanic Restaurant.

  2. Kira Says:

    I enjoyed this post, and I love this site, and I devour every Good Word of the Day! I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in Demarest, NJ (10 miles NW of NYC). Demarest had a bank, a deli, a liquor store, a gas station, a pizza place, the post office and a butcher (“meat market” in the Demarest-speak of my childhood). Closter, the bigger town next over, had a 5 & Dime…AND…it’s…STILL…there! The gentleman who bought it (his demeanor suggests people still ask for shelf-stretchers) loved it as a kid and wanted to preserve it. He says nowadays most of his business comes from online. I go there every time I visit. Long live the 5 & Dime! And!

  3. Kira Says:

    …or is it “70s and 80s”…? I get a little paranoid writing on this site…;)

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