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Woolworth's, Richland Mall: 1990s   11 comments

Posted at 12:24 am in Uncategorized

I've been putting off doing a post on Woolworth's because I don't have any pictures of the place, or even any ads. I'm sure I'll find a newspaper ad eventually, but they don't seem to have gone in for Yellow Pages ads at all.

Anyway -- Woolworth's was in the original open-air Richland Mall from the beginning. Woolworth's front entrance was on the Beltline side of the mall, and the back entrance opened into the mall's main traverse corridor. The way I remember it, Woolworth's was approximately in the middle of the mall. I'm definitely a little shakey on the layout of all the old stores, but I can definitely say that if you went out Woolworth's back door, a left turn would point you at White's on the far end of the mall. I believe that as you were walking to White's, you would pass Meri's and, in later years, The Happy Bookseller.

Conversely, if you came out the back door and turned right, you would go past Jackson Camera, Eckerd's and head down towards the laundromat and Winn Dixie.

If you came in through the front door, there was more or less a clear corridor to the back door, and there were registers in both the front and back. Still facing the back, the right side of the store was more or less devoted to clothes, and I didn't usually go over there. The left side was much more interesting and had records, pets, various school and office supplies, the lunch counter and the restrooms.

Every year, about this time, we would go to Woolworth's for new school supplies. I liked Blue Horse brand because all the items had coupons you could clip and send in for premiums. The fact that I never got enough to send in and never actually got a single premium didn't deter me. (Somewhere about the house there is probably still a cache of Blue Horse coupons..). For pencils I liked Ticonderoga #3 (and always avoided Empire pencils) and for notebook paper, I liked "college ruled". Aside from the stuff we actually used, there was neat stuff that we never used, though we each had several. This included protractors and drawing compasses (with the deadly points).

The pet department didn't have dogs or cats -- it ran more to hamsters and gerbils as far as mammals went, turtles to represent reptiles, and lots of fish. There were several places in town we would get aquarium fish, but I think we got most of our "neons" from Woolworth's.

Of course Woolworth was famous, or infamous, for its lunch counters, but as this store was built post 1964, I'm prety sure it always served everybody (at least officially). The lunch counter was, as I said, on the left side of the store, and fairly near to the rear. We didn't eat there too often, but as I recall it, there was an actual counter with padded swivel stools arrayed around it, and then some booths away from the counter itself. I'm pretty sure I remember the aqua-enamel covered Hamilton Beach milkshake machines, and that the fries were crinkle cut.

The record section was to the right of the lunch counter (though still left of the central corridor) and almost against the back windows. There were a certain amount of "real" records shelved alphabetically, certainly not a deep selection, but probably a fair number of the days hits. The attraction for me however was the cut-out bins. In these, would be remnants: records that didn't sell for whatever reason (usually because they weren't very good...) with a notch cut out of the covers to indicate their status, and boxed up indiscriminately to be sent to places like Woolworth's at reduced prices. The records were in absolutely no order of any sort, but I was obsessive in those days (and broke, which helped) and I would look through each and every record in every cut-out bin. I know I got a number of records there over the years, but at this point, I can definitely recall two, both by the discount repackager Pickwick Records. Both were cheapo repackaging of Beach Boys material from the Capitol era. One, "Wow, Great Concert!" repackaged the first Beach Boys concert album, leaving off several tracks, and the second was an 8-track tape repackaging album tracks from the first two Beach Boys LP's (Surfin' Safari and Surfin' USA) leaving off the hit singles and adding their own typos to the song titles -- For years, I assumed that "Moog Dog" referred to the synthesizer, when in fact it was simply a typo for "Moon Dog". Actually, come to think of it, I also bought a non-Pickwick repackaging the Beach Boys pre-Capitol tracks at Woolworth's as well. (Always beware if you see an off-brand looking Beach Boys package that boasts "Surfer Girl" & "Surfin' Safari" it probably dates from the Hite Morgan sessions and has much earlier and more primitive performances -- interesting, but not what you heard on the radio).

When I first started going to Woolworth's, the bathroom was unique amongst all the bathrooms (that I was aware of) in Columbia: It was a pay bathroom. The door handle had a protruding mechanism with a coin-slot, and the handle itself was more like the handle on a bubble-gum machine than a usual door handle. I loved that thing, and annoyed my mother to no end by "holding it" while we were in White's (which had nice, free, restrooms) so that I could use the coin bathroom at Woolworth's. In later years, they disabled the coin mechanism and the restroom was free to all, though you could still see that it had once been pay.

If all this weren't enough, possibly the neatest thing about Woolworth's was the arcade game past the front checkout counters, against the front wall. This was the pre-electronic, pre-videogame era when in general, pinball machines were the only option. This particular machine had the general pinball format -- about two feet wide and four feet deep, but it wasn't a pinball machine. I wish I could remember the name of it, but it was some sort of "shoot the aliens" game. You would put in your dime, and your joystick would activate. The joystick would traverse right and left, and had either a trigger, or a firing button on top of it. It was connected to a plastic laser cannon at the front of the console, and moving the joystick would swivel the cannon right and left.

Shortly after the game came to life, a mechanical flying-saucer would pop up at the back of the game and move randomly left and right (and sometimes pop down behind the scenary to move invisibly). You had to point your cannon at where you thought the saucer was going to be by the time your blast got to it -- you had to guess what it was going to do and lead it. Every time you pushed the firing button different segments of lights along the top of the game would light up, indicating the progress of your laser bolt. To some extent you could still change the direction it was progressing in by adjusting your joystick, but the gross direction was fixed at the start of your shot.

If you guessed right and the saucer was in the area where your bolt impacted, it would make a very satisfying sound effect and all the lights would flash to indicate the destruction. You would also get points, but that was pretty secondary to me, since there were no prizes and I generally wasn't playing against anyone. And really, it was almost enough to just watch the machine go through its paces whatever the outcome. It's amazing what they did totally without computers or any electronics -- just mechanical know-how and electricity.

Woolworth's survived the change from the open-air Richland Mall to the ill-fated and enclosed Richland Fashion Mall. As I recall it, the new store was on the second level. If you came into Whites from the Beltline side, it would be out the right mall entrance to Whites. The new store was smaller than the old store, and didn't have pets. By this time, I was in college, and I only went there once or twice. I recall it as a pretty sad looking affair, and in fact the whole chain was in trouble by this time.

Fairly shortly thereafter, Woolworth's rebranded itself as Footlocker and shed its dimestore history. They kept a Footlocker store in Richland Mall (I think it was out the left mall entrance to Whites) but I had no interest whatsoever in that concept, and never went in.

Wonder if I still have that 8-Track?

Written by ted on September 3rd, 2010

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11 Responses to 'Woolworth's, Richland Mall: 1990s'

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  1. Woolworth had stores in dutch Square and on the 1400 block of Main Street. Their pet department also sold parakeets. I used to go the Richland Mall store all the time to buy stamps and stamp collecting supplies.


    3 Sep 10 at 9:20 am

  2. I remember the Mexican jumping beans at the checkout counter.

    David H

    3 Sep 10 at 9:40 am

  3. Oh yeah, I remember those too!


    3 Sep 10 at 9:55 am

  4. Wow, ted, great remembrances of a Forest Acres kid's life in the sixties. Seems like my family was constantly at Richland Mall, buying groceries at both grocery stores, doing laundry at the coin laundromat, picking up dry cleaning, getting prescriptions at Eckerd's, shopping for clothes at White's, eating at the Redwood Cafeteria and just nosing around all the other interesting little stores.

    We lived near the corner of Beltline and Covenant -- exactly nine tenths of a mile from the mall. I bet I hopped on my bike and went there for some excuse or other three or four times a week for years. I knew every crack in the sidewalk on the way there, and every nook and cranny of the mall. I'm sure I was a familiar sight to many employees there.

    Your memories match up with all of mine except I am sure Woolworth's moved their records at some point to the other side of the back door cash registers. As I got more serious about records I started going to the rack upstairs at White's. Albums were 2.98. Meri's seemed to only have 45s of the current Top 40.

    As I've written elsewhere here I worked at the Riverboat Tea Room upstairs in White's when I was in high school.

    Those mechanical games you mentioned really were fascinating. Even at the time we played them they were very old and belonged in a museum someplace. The Grants store at Midlands Shopping center had a few, and the skating rink on Ft. Jackson Blvd. had a whole row of them.

    I keep meaning to draw a map of the mall the way I remember it and send it to you. I'll try to get it done soon


    3 Sep 10 at 3:40 pm

  5. I think Meri's was on the side of the mall opposite Woolworth's, near Baubles n Things. If you walked toward White's from Woolworth's, you would pass the Redwood Cafeteria (later Morrison's, I think). Was there a Berry's on that side, too? I know Berry's Men's Shop was down near Winn Dixie, but I have a dim recollection of a Berry's on Main near Woolworth's, too.

    If you could somehow post a rough diagram of the mall, maybe we could come to a consensus on where the various stores were.


    3 Sep 10 at 8:36 pm

  6. Meri's was at one of the side entrances to the mall--it had a window on the front and one on the side. It was on the right as you walked towards White's as was the popcorn place and the pet store. Wasn't there also a Hickory Farms on that side at some time?


    3 Sep 10 at 10:49 pm

  7. There definitely was a Hickory Farms on the right side of the corridor if you were walking towards White's.


    3 Sep 10 at 11:39 pm

  8. On the same side as Hickory Farms there was a jewelry store right next to Whites. Also there was berry's on Main. The Winn Dixie was on the same side of the mall as hickory farms and the Happy Bookseller was there too.

    On the opposite side I remember Redwood (later Hires) cafeteria, Woolworths, Colonial/Big Star Foods and Eckerds.


    4 Sep 10 at 5:22 am

  9. Jackson Camera was also on that side of the mall with Meri's and Mr. Poppers.
    Those cutouts in the record dept. of Woolworth's were great. A lot of times a group would only have one good song (one-shot wonders) and I picked up several albums for something like 28 cents each. They also had a good selection of 8 track tapes for under a buck, like Steppenwolf and James Gang.

    Terry Edwards

    4 Sep 10 at 6:31 am

  10. I loved to dig through the cutout bins at Woolworth's, and Zayre's and Atlantic Thrift (we're going way back and obscure now!).

    I learned to buy any album that had a) very long songs, like over seven or eight minutes, and b) NO vocals. Discovered some great stuff this way, such as Dixie Dregs.

    FYI I sent ted my amateur attempt at mapping the old Richland Mall. I trust he will put it here when he can and we can all argue about what store was where.


    4 Sep 10 at 9:26 am

  11. For the map, at the Winn Dixie end of the Woolworth's side of the mall past Eckerd's were Gerald's, Merle Norman, and an ice cream shop (originally Edisto Farms Dairy, I think). There was a free-standing Russell Stover candy store up by the filling station.


    4 Sep 10 at 10:21 am

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