“Where’s My Change?”

Ken Steinhoff toys c 1953 03-03-2015

Nanci Griffith sings about having to change buses when going from North Austin to South Austin when she was a teenager. The transfer would give her just enough time to run into the Woolworth’s store, grab a vanilla Coke, look in the record bin and “wink at the boys” on her way to catch the next bus.

In her song, Love at the Five and Dime, she says, “All Woolworth stores are special. They all smell the same. They smell a little bit like popcorn and chewing gum wrapped around the bottom of a leather-soled shoe. They all have the same sound.”

Standing in the toy aisle

Main Street w Woolworth Store 04-05-2010She could have been describing the one in Cape. There I was, standing in the toy aisle of Woolworth’s clutching a crumpled, much-handled one-dollar bill and trying to make up my mind.

Just down the aisle from the toy section was the long lunch counter. It produced a mixture of sounds: silverware clinking on heavy china plates, the whirrrr of mixers cranking out milkshakes, the squeak of the revolving vinyl-covered red stools, and the low murmur of the town’s movers and shakers solving the problems of the world while sitting next to teenagers on dates and mothers with kids in tow.

Vintage soap scum

Sensing that Mother was getting impatient, I finally picked the toy boat on the right, something that is still covered with soap scum from probably around 1955.

It was marked “99¢”

I handed my limp dollar bill to the cashier and stood waiting patiently. She finally noticed I was still there and said, “Is there something else?”

“I’m waiting for my penny change.” Even then, I was a hard negotiator who was determined nobody was going to rip me off.

“There is no change”

“There IS no change,” she dismissed. “The toy was 99¢ and there is a penny tax. That’s the whole dollar.”

That was a rude awakening. I must have been about 6, and my faith in math and economics was shattered. It was much like when Son Matt got his first paycheck at 13 or 14 and came in hollering, “Who is this FICA dude and why is he taking my money?”

I can’t wait until we plop the grandkids in the tub to give another generation a chance to float those boats. I’m gonna get my buck’s worth.

16 Replies to ““Where’s My Change?””

  1. Boys bought boats. Girls bought colbalt blue bottles of Evening in Paris; the cologne was dreadful, but the bottle was beautiful. Nanci Griffith was right, ‘they all smell the same.’ Target and Walmarts have no distinctive smell, but any child of the 50’s and 60’s would recognize the Woolworth scent blindfolded. Another Woolworthism modern stores lack is the countertop display tables, so much more interesting than shelves.

    1. You’re right Anola, Evening in Paris was awful but I thought it was so elegant. I bought my Mother a bottle for Christmas one year, I was so proud of my gift.

  2. Poop corn…grilled cheese all the smells of Woolworths. and Toy section, I was lucky they did not charge me rent to stale at all the Revelle models on display.

  3. Woolworth’s lunch counter is where I discovered the Club Sandwich. BLT and cold cuts stacked triple-decker style on toast. Cut into 4 triangles, held together with cellophane-topped toothpicks, and served with a mound of fries or chips. A welcome change from the same old same dorm food, and well worth the walk downtown from the campus. There were other dime stores downtown, too; Newberry’s and Sterling’s.

  4. I had a few grilled cheese sandwiches and a open-faced roast beef sandwich a few times at Wollworth’s and a cherry coke. Hey, for about three fifty it was worth it.

  5. That was some lunch counter at Woolworth’s, but the didn’t hold a candle to the excellent foods served at the Right Way Cafe (Barks family) or the Town Pump, best dry rub barbecue on toast–ever.

  6. The oilcloth at the back of the store is the smell I remember. Trying to decide on fabric for a vest/smock for art at Washington School, or picking out one for a “sit upon” for Girl Scouts was always fun. Also that is were the fish and birds were. The front of the store held all the fascination for the preteen girl, MAKEUP! And items for hair and nails. It all looked so exotic. It was like a life just waiting to be tried on. Woolworths had it all.

  7. For me the best memory is of the huge block of chocolate just to the left of the front door in the candy counter.

  8. After school at St. Vincents grade school, my brother and I walked to Woolworths to wait for the city bus that would take us home to N. Henderson. I remember reading all the comics while we waited. Every week, I would have 10 cents to buy one new comic book. We had stacks of comic books which were well kept at home. they were stacked in the basement at Mom’s house for years, then she decided to just get rid of them! She didn’t realize she was giving away something valuable! So sad. I do remember buying my mom a blue glass tray at Woolworths. I save it when my mom passed away. I Probably spent all of $2-3! Now, I have been told it is collectable!

    1. To Nora Reynolds Zimmer: I also attended St.Vincent’s and remember a Mike Reynolds. I’m wondering if that is your brother. I think Mike was a year or two ahead of me. I graduated from 8th grade in ’58.

      1. My brother was born in 1943, I believe. He lives in MN now. Doing good. He will be in MO for a visit in Oct. I think. Was Smith your married name?

  9. I would ride the city bus for a dime, shop all afternoon, and then get an ice cream soda at the lunch counter at Woolworths. Right out the back door on Spanish St. I caught the bus back home. I probably never spent more than $1.25 for the whole adventure, transportation included!

  10. I remember the toy counter. You could walk all around it. There was shelves in the middle where the higher priced items were in view. My brother and I would probably make two or there rounds looking at the toys. Also i always liked the Neapolitan ice cream sandwich on sugar wafers that I believe sold for 9 cents. I have since tried to find sugar wafers that big to make then since then, but never have.

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