My mom and I would get the Pacific Stage Lines bus near our Burnaby home and make the trek to ‘downtown’, which meant, Vancouver. It was a very different Vancouver from the huge glass-and-aluminum tower dominated Vancouver of today – much more homey.
That notwithstanding, we would go from shop-to-shop and get whatever stuff she wanted. To the department stores: Woodward’s, Eaton’s, the Bay and I would be dragged along in her tow. While I didn’t mind the big stores, my special passion was for the ‘little stores’ of the day – the five-and-dimes. Those were mini-emporia a kid could handle, and in the days of scanty allowances, they might even have items a boy could manage to purchase – possibly with the aid of a slight parental subsidy which could be forthcoming if I had been ‘good’ during the expedition.
Best treat of all, however, is if she decided to have lunch at Woolworth’s or Kresge’s or one of the half dozen others. Woolies or Kresge’s (K-Mart’s forerunner) were the best in the lunch department.
Five and dimes were wonderful institutions. They reflected a time when money was tight and people couldn’t be frivolous about spending. Yet, they offered some quality stuff and, as I say, they were such fun to peruse. The business model was a huge success and made FW Woolworth, for example, a gazilionnaire as his stores could be found all over the world. Prior to the Chrysler Building and the Empire State, Woolworth’s was the dominant tower in the NYC skyline.
The original five and dime doesn’t seem to exist much any longer. They appear to have been replaced by the ubiquitous dollar stores or their equivalents that can be found in every city, down, suburb and village on the planet, or so it seems. And while they don’t boast lunch counters they are still great emporia for bargain hunters and seekers of esoterica of many kinds and they are founts of the most obscure brands. Have you tried ‘Al’s Toothpaste’? How about ‘Ajax Toilet Paper’? Need some kitchen items for mere pennies that you never bothered purchasing. Well, get them at your dollar store. They are so inexpensive that even if they turn out to be useless crap, you aren’t going to be out much in the way of dollars since you probably found a Handee-Dandee peach pitter for 97-cents (and that was for two in the package.)
As for me, I buy art supplies therein. They go for a fraction of the prices you’d find in fancy-ass art shops. Stretched canvases for a couple of bucks, acrylic paints also hugely cut rate, as are their brushes. Oh sure, some of the brushes leave little remnants of themselves on the canvases, but they’re so cheap that the sacrifice in texture quality is almost worthwhile. I bet if impoverished Van Gogh had a dollar store nearby he might not have cut his ear off. Or, if he still had that impulse he would have found a straight razor at a bargain price and maybe could have done both ears.
Now, if only some entrepreneur would think about setting up a dollar store lunch counter he couldn’t keep me away.