Oshkosh Stories and Snapshots: Dime Stores

Dime Stores
Late 1930s - early 1940s
Contributed by: Steve

It's common to hear someone say, "I'll be right back. I have to run out to the mall to get a few items." In the good old days, shopping trips were planned and you would set aside several hours to get everything done. If you had no automobile, you boarded a trolley or a bus and went downtown. If you needed shoes, you went to a shoe store. If you needed aspirin, you went to the drug store. And if you wanted some nails, you went to a hardware store. Today, you could probably get all three items plus several thousand others at one store. A trip downtown was never completed until you went to the dime store. The dime store? You mean everything sold for a dime? I don't really know how the term "dime store" got it's name but I can assure you, not everything sold for a dime. Actually, they were first known as "five and dime" stores. They were also known as variety stores, which I think was more accurate.

Oshkosh was blessed with at least six dime stores that I can remember. The S.S. Kresge, J.J. Newberry, F.W. Woolworth and the W.T. Grant stores were on Main Street and the Banner Store and Baum & Callin's were on Oregon Street. If you needed, or wanted, school supplies, everyday dinnerware, candy, a get well card for Aunt Molly, a lamp shade, curtains for the bedroom, socks and underwear, books or stationary, you went to the dime store. There was even a photo booth where you could have your picture taken. I remember envying the girl that operated an automatic donut-making machine at Kresge's. When the donuts were done, she would dip them in icing or cinnamon. I never saw her eat a donut but then I never hung around all day. All the dime stores, except the Banner Store and Baum & Callin's had a lunch counter and they were very popular. . My favorite was at the Woolworth store. They served an apple dumpling that was simply out of this world. I may be somewhat partial because they were baked by a cousin to my wife.

There were other department stores that sold a higher class of merchandise and more fashions than the dime stores. Some I remember were Kline's, Henderson Hoyt's, J.C. Penney's and Sears Roebuck. Sears Roebuck on Main Street sold almost everything, including manure spreaders. Several other stores sold ladies fashions, men's clothing, jewelry, luggage and many other specialties.

Another memory that comes to mind is the soda fountains and their obnoxious soda jerks who had it made and knew it. The Wigwam, Schroeders Drug and Fuhs Drug were perhaps the most popular downtown. My personal favorite was Beerntsen's on 12th and Oregon. Many of the teenagers of the day would order a cherry coke or a root beer float and sip it for hours while listening to the jukebox.

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