Throwback Thursday – Woolworth’s in Bowling Green

During the age of online shopping, the department store era is coming to a close. Over the past couple years, Bowling Green’s seen stores like Sears, K-mart, Toys R Us, and more close their doors for good. This week is the story of Woolworth’s, one of the original big box stores and the inspiration for the true “five and dime” store.

The year was 1880. Frank Winfield Woolworth opened his first store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Every item was ten cents or less, hence the famous “five and dime” line. This store model was an immediate success and there were eventually over 2,000 Woolworth’s across the country.

According to the Bowling Green Landmark Association, the city’s Woolworth’s opened in 1917 at 443 Park Row with just six employees. The store thrived and by the 1950s over 150 people worked there, and it outgrew the space. In 1953, Woolworth’s opened a new store on the corner at 429 Park Row.

Woolworth’s wasn’t just a store. It was a community hub and hangout. The Western Kentucky University student newspapers advertised its soda fountain and food for decades, especially its mammoth sized Coca-Cola sodas and sweet desserts— all for never more than ten cents.

But by the middle of the 1970s, big box stores around the country were moving out of downtown city centers and into suburban strip malls and shopping centers. Bowling Green was no different. There was a major migration from downtown by the late 1970s when the shopping mall opened off Campbell Lane, and even moreso when Greenwood Mall opened in the 1980s.

The corner of Park Row and State Street was once one of the hottest storefronts in town. The Bowling Green Woolworth’s officially closed its doors in 1987. The building was razed in 1992 and turned into a parking lot. In the late 2000s, BB&T Bank decided to rebuild and turn the corner lot into a new branch.