Jun 262013
 

Woolco

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.

Woolco-interior

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.

  8 Responses to “Woolco”

  1. The Suffolk county locations opened in 1977 and I think the 2 in Nassau (both were former “Great Eastern” stores) would debut in either 1978 or 1979. The Jericho store was repurposed into office space when Woolco went under while the East Meadow store was carved up into the Clearmeadow Mall with a Foodtown next door (now Walmart and Stop & Shop, repectively)

  2. Does anyone remember the restaurant that used to be in the old Grants on route 58 I think in the 1970’s? I remember eating there. It had a gold colored lattice that you could partially see the people eating through. It was all the way on the right hand side as you came in the entrance.

    • The restaurant attached to Woolco on Rt. 58 in Riverhead was the Harvest House. I vividly remember that gold colored lattice as well. My Aunt was the manager there!!

      • Sure you bought an ice cream sundae and got to pop a balloon. Whatever the price was inthe balloon you paid for the sundae. You dreamed of popping the one that said free.

    • It was the Bradford House Restaurant in WT Grants in Riverhead on 58.

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