The F. W. Woolworth store was on Main Street in Independence. I guess you could say it was the WalMart of the day. It was known as a five and dime store, but the prices sometimes were higher than that. We used to go to town on Saturday night and park on Main Street and watch the people go by. It was the social time of the week, similar to going to WalMart today. Woolworth’s was open until nine o’clock on Saturday night. Of course, we shopped at Woolworth’s, too, and their candy counter was a favorite of mine.
I was in the ninth grade when I began working at Woolworth’s. My friend, Norma Lee and I used to walk up town at the noon hour and also sometimes after school. One day we got the idea to put our applications for jobs in at Woolworth’s. We were both thirteen at the time and so we had to lie about our age on the application. It was in late September and our hope was that we would be hired for the Christmas season. In October, I got a call to come in for an interview. I was quite excited. As a result of the interview which I don’t remember at all, I was hired to work on Saturdays during the Christmas season. I started work almost immediately.
Wow! A job that paid money..forty cents an hour..and wonder of wonders, I was put on the candy counter! Mr. Bettis, the manager, told me I could sample any of the candy I wanted! Had I died and gone to Heaven? As I look back, it was probably the wisest move he could have made. It wasn’t too long before the candy lost its fascination. Especially when I went downstairs and brought up the big boxes of bulk candy from the basement. There were bugs down there. Not that they were in the candy boxes, but they were in the basement where the candy was kept.
The candy counter had big glass bins of bulk candy, such as those you see in Mr. Bulky’s now. The only difference was the person behind the counter took your order and weighed out the amount of candy you wanted. It was sold in quarter-pound increments. The varieties of candy included the best selling orange slices, vanilla chocolate covered fondant, chocolate covered cherries ( my mother’s favorite), bulk chocolate (my favorite), boston baked beans, coconut slices, candy corn, peppermint, wintergreen, and of course, hard candies for Christmas. There were also cookies of many kinds. I very well remember Sunshine Hydrox which were like Oreos only they were better in my opinion. Apparently, my view wasn’t shared by everyone since they are non existant now and Oreos are best sellers. The cookies, like the candy were in bulk and sold by weighing the amount the customer wanted.
Each counter had its own cash register so we weighed out the merchandise, sacked it in paper bags, and took the money. We did not wear plastic gloves as they were unheard of at the time. We handled the candy with scoops. The cash register was the old fashioned kind, and we had to figure the change and count it back to the customer. The scales were balances and we had to put the correct weight on one side and scoop the candy into a scoop-like container on the other side, making sure the weight and the candy balanced. I was not alone at the candy counter as it really took two of us to handle the business. That is, until I became well-trained. During my training, I was told that it was better to give a little more than the weight desired, rather than a little less. Good business, I guess, as it kept people coming back.
I worked through the Christmas season that year and then when other people were laid off, I was kept through inventory. After inventory, I expected to be laid off, but I wasn’t. I kept working Saturdays at Woolworth’s until the summer vacation when my hours were expanded. I didn’t work full time, but worked basically as needed part time. When school started again, I went back to Saturdays.
During the summer, I was given the responsibility of running the jewelry counter. This meant keeping the stock neat and “selling” jewelry. I also was taught to engrave people’s names on identification bracelets. This was done with a vibrating engraver. I must say, some of my engravings were a little bit shaky, but I guess people got their money’s worth as the engraving was free. It was fun “selling” jewelry and sell it I did! Sales improved on jewelry that summer and I was very proud of that. I don’t recall ever having anything stolen from the jewelry counter which was open to all.
My record on the jewelry counter made the management think I was a sales person. They put me on special sales projects that year when I went back to school. I remember one time in particular that they put me on outside sales and stationed me at the corner of Penn Avenue and Oak Street on Memorial Day to sell fresh flowers. This intersection was by the cemetary. Another lady and I had a stand of sorts there to sell peonies as I remember. Can you imagine?
Iworked at Woolworth’s until I was sixteen. I only quit then because I had an offer from a customer to work for her in a new restaurant she was opening. When I gave my notice, the floor manager was upset with me and told me the manager could have gotten in trouble for hiring me because I was underage and had lied about it. I felt that he surely knew a person in the ninth grade wasn’t sixteen, but I was good help so he took his chances.
At one time during my career at Woolworth’s, I was given the key to the money safe and was taught to run change. Whenever a person on a counter needed change for a large bill, they rang a bell and I went and got the money and brought back the change to them. One time I left a twenty lying on a counter, and they had to call me back to get it. If I remember correctly, the change safe always balanced. A lot of responsibility for someone not yet sixteen.
This was all such good experience for me. I learned work ethics, responsibility, and salesmanship. I also learned a lot about the psychology of dealing with people. I had some regular customers who became my friends. I learned that people are always hunting for bargains, and merchants know how to make things look like bargains, even when they aren’t. A good example of this was that one time we packaged work socks that sold individually for twenty cents a pair into packages of four and sold them for a dollar. It was one of my “special sales projects” and I sold the heck out of them!
So I also learned the truth of the saying, “Let the buyer beware”!