Each week when I do the Independent Q&A, I make sure to ask the interview victim what might be their favorite memory of growing up in Salisbury. Usually, when the tape recorder is turned off, the interviewee will ask me that same favorite-memory question.
I have three that mean a lot: Boulevard Theater, Polar Bar, Salisbury Zoo.
I have one that means more than the other three combined: The downtown Woolworth’s store.
It’s hard to imagine today, but in many ways the old Woolworth’s was the center of life on the Lower Shore. During the establishment’s 1960s-’70s glory days, I would be willing to wager that not a single soul from Ocean City to Cambridge, and from Accomac to Seaford, could claim not to have ever been there.
Everything one might ever want seemed to be for sale there. It was the cut-through/thoroughfare from the city parking lot to West Main Street (and later) the Downtown Plaza. A person could run into more people they knew just by walking through the Woolworth’s then they probably good at Sunday morning church.
As kids, we would wander the aisles and just look at the merchandize. Salesladies would sometime come along and scoot us toward a door. I can still remember what it was like to cut through the women’s clothing section downstairs, ascend the store’s back steps and sort of emerge into the main store. I can still recall the smell, the sounds, the aura — the irreplaceable charm and comfort that somehow came from walking into a store.
The tine ceiling — which is still there today in the City Gallery Building — was the most beautiful piece of architectural accessorizing that I had ever seen.
The prized area of the store was along the east wall — the famous lunch counter. Everyone in Salisbury ate there all of the time. Yes, people also ate at spots such Johnny and Sammy’s and Read’s drugstore, but the Woolworth’s lunch counter was king, queen and bishop of Salisbury.
Earlier this year, I posted on Facebook a photo of Woolworth’s lunch counter menu from the year I was born, 1960. It touched a soft spot in people’s hearts, because the memories came pouring out into the online world.
The comments from readers revealed I’m am hardly alone when it comes to the Woolworth sentimentality.
Wrote Wes Wilkerson: “Good memory! I believe my great grandmother, Mary Hopkins, worked there for 60 years. I don t know how long she worked at the lunch counter, but my mom took me there in the 1970s. I would get grilled cheese with chips and a pickle wedge. I remember some kind of system with wires with orders or something on clips going up and around the store.”
My favorite lunch counter activity was the banana-split-balloon-price game. Apparently, that mattered a lot to Kay Pianka too: “Remember when you ordered a banana split and got to pop a balloon?”
I do — the price you paid was on a slip of paper placed into the balloon before it was pumped up. The prices ranged from a penny (supposedly) to 69 cents. I think I pretty much always got 69 cents, but the drama of the balloon popping was more exciting than the “Let’s Make A Deal” showcase on TV.
Others had great memories that they shared via Facebook.
Joni Webb: “ I forgot and left my first grown-up purse hanging under the counter on a hook at the Woolworth’s. I went there for lunch with my mom. I was 8.”
Judy Messick Scott: “Me and my sisters would go to the plaza with our allowance money on Saturdays once in a while, and after shopping would go to the Woolworth’s counter and have lunch. One of the highlights of our youth.”
Marcia Payne McCormick: “Loved to sit in those seats! I remember being there and my Grandmother gave me a quarter, then said ‘now you don’t have to spend it all.’
I would love to hear your favorite Woolworth’s memories. I will print as many as I can. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of the Salisbury Independent.
Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at email@example.com