The 1970s saw a surge in popularity for discount department stores all across the country. One such place was Woolco, a store that reared its head on Long Island in 1976, and enjoyed success through the remainder of the decade. Unfortunately, when the next decade arrived, those once-busy retail outlets would soon become extinct.
Five-and-dime mogul, F.W. Woolworth launched Woolco way back in 1962, a larger version of their well-known Woolworth stores that already dotted the Long Island landscape. The first Woolco opened in Columbus, Ohio, and within a few years, there were 18 locations, each proving successful. As a result, when the 70s arrived, Woolco demonstrated its ambitious plans for expansion, as they proceeded to open 300 stores across North America.
Long Island received its first Woolco stores in 1976. Five were opened in Suffolk County – in Patchogue, Lake Ronkonkoma, Bridgehampton, Rocky Point and Riverhead – and two in Nassau county, in East Meadow and Jericho. These stores were all located in buildings formerly occupied by the W.T. Grant chain, and many featured a Red Grille restaurant.
Woolco stores offered discounts in a setting more reminiscent of a department store than a discount chain, offering better decor, layout and softer lighting than the competition. Stores featured the typical assortment of clothing, housewares, sporting goods, toys, automotive, and of course, the ever-popular record departments where you could find great deals on the albums and 45s of the day.
As the 80s arrived, so began the quick demise of Woolco. Although the company started the decade with ambitious plans to renovate the entire chain, it began evident that these efforts would be too costly. Plus, there were other competitors on the block, from longtime retailers K-Mart, and newcomers like Walmart and Target. Finally, in 1982 (September 24, if you want to be exact), Woolco announced the closing of all 300+ stores in the United States. All Long Island locations were eventually converted into Caldor stores.
Woolco may be long gone, but they certainly aren’t forgotten, especially among Long Island 70s kids. Many of were dragged through the clothing departments by our parents, and hid under those little round clothing racks whenever we could get away with it. Many of us did our Christmas shopping there, when we didn’t want to brave the congestion of the mall. We spent our allowance there on toys and candy, and bought plenty of 45 records there, along with those little plastic inserts so that we could actually play them on a turntable. Woolco was the go-to store in the 1970s for anyone looking for a bargain, and as such, it fondly remembered by many a local.
Did you do your shopping at Woolco back in the day, or maybe even worked there? If so, we would love to hear all of your recollections in our comments section below.