Sunday, March 2, 2008

Eulogy for the Dime Store

A sad thing happened earlier this year. Drew’s V & S Variety Store on Harwood Avenue in Wauwatosa closed its doors. It was one of my favorite places. I used to say that “If they don’t have it, you don’t need it” which wasn’t quite true, but close enough.

One of my favorite stores to visit growing up was the Ben Franklin store on Oakland Avenue in Milwaukee. That too has closed and it’s storefront was left empty for years, a sad reminder of what had once been.

I fondly remember visits to Ben Franklin to buy yarn when I was learning how to knit, fabric and notions for Home Ec class, and small roses to make bouquets to wear when the Wisconsin Badgers were going to the Rose Bowl for the first time in years. I still remember all of the aisles and what aisle things were in.

A college friend of mine confided that she loved Ben Franklin because if she ran out of time to do her laundry, she knew she could always stop in there and buy a pair of underwear in a pinch.

I was sad when that store closed sometime in the mid 1990s, but the closing of Drew’s was even more profound. I think it very well may have been the last dime store in town. I know of no others. (You Milwaukeeans - Winkie's does not count. They are mostly a card/novelty store now.)

When I moved to this neighborhood years ago, I asked a friend if she knew of a dime store in the area and she turned me on to Drew’s.

Where else could you go on a shopping trip, stopping at one store, and come home with an oil cloth for the kitchen table, a fish or two for the tank, office supplies, ribbon, holiday decorations, giant tubs for ice, beads (and good ones, too!), yarn (good yarn), fabric, toys, kitchen needs and cleaning products all in one spot? And where else can you buy a Zagnut, Chunky bar or a Zero?

These were not the bright shiny new wide-aisled big box stores like Target, K Mart and that-which-shall-not-be-named (shudder.) These were stores with cloth baskets to put your purchases in with small aisles jammed with merchandise. Part of the fun was the hunt. Shopworn, yes, but a comfortable fit like a well-worn and loved denim shirt.

I used to have aquariums. I bought many fish from an aged gentleman who seemed to run the back of the store where the fish were housed. I bought one cory catfish that lived for over ten years in a tank at work. When it finally died, my friend cried. Over a catfish.

I couldn’t bring myself to go into the store the last few months it was open. It would have been too sad to watch the shelves empty down to the last bit of merchandise. I drive by the empty storefront on my way to and from work.

Good bye, old friend. It is the demise of the dime store. Hello internet. I’m not sure that it was a fair trade.

Will it be long before the neighborhood hardware stores are a memory as well?

Today's quote comes from James Barrie: We never understand how little we need in this world until we know the loss of it.


Lynn said...

The closing of Drew's is indeed a sad loss for all of us "in the village". Living a few blocks away with my 2 daughters for over 20 years, Drew's was the destination for many an emergency school project, pet product, allowance burning-a-hole-in-your-pocket, kid's "surprise" present for mom and so much more.
Over the years I have relied on them for reasonably priced sewing items, old fashioned toys, silk flowers, styrofoam forms and a myriad of items that were just right for so many displays and exhibit props for my job. I so often would walk in knowing sort of what I wanted to make, but not exactly how and would walk out with materials for the perfect solution to my design!
I will miss the folks who worked there for years, always helpful and interested in my "crazy project" that I was doing at work.
I wonder how long it will take before I stop thinking "I'll run over to Drew's" when I need those certain items for home or work?

Any Smith said...

Ah, a lurker comes out of the woodwork. Thanks for echoing my sentiments, Lynn. Knew you'd feel the same way:)

The Lone Beader said...

I liked the Ben Franklin store. They had one up in NH.

freebird said...

I remember T,G and Y stores. The same sort as you describe. We have two stores here in town with one being KMart and the other WalMart. I can't find hardly any good art stuff so I have to use the internet. WalMart doesn't even carry embroidery floss anymore! I tried to find Pigma pens there the other day but no luck. To shop there you have to be willing to have the same thing as everyone else in town. So, it's down to the internet. Thank goodness it comes with a great blog neighborhood!!

The bad Liz said...

We didn't have many Ben Franklin's in the Detroit area, but we did have Kresge's. As K-Mart grew in the area, the Kresge's died. I still remember the mean lady behind the soda fountain and feeling really grown up because I was eating out.

I have only one neighborhood hardware store left - hopefully it stays around for a long, long time!