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Before Walmart, We Got Five and Dimed – Pennsylvania Owned the World.

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on December 24, 2018

Well, getting back to the “random writings” part of this blog, I remembered a dream from early this morning. I was in, what I later figured out to be, an empty classroom. There was a blackboard somewhere far to my left. In front of me was a bookcase. The books were all paperbacks, of a fairly uniform mass market size. The case was made of cardboard or something similar, and flexible. There were pockets for the books strung along in rows. Each pocket had multiple books in it, lying haphazardly in the pockets. One book was on the floor, and I picked it up, just to replace it in the bookshelf/pocket thing.

As I attempted to do so, I disturbed the other books, and, in trying to straighten them all up I upset the whole bookcase. It fell towards me, but only the top half came forward. It was folded over in half, so I pushed it back up to the full upright position. Most of the books were still in their pockets; just a few had fallen out. But, as I bent over to pick the fallen soldiers-of-the-printed-word up, I knocked something off the edge of the table next to the bookcase. It turned out to be an old manual pencil sharpener, with a metal frame, and a red plastic holder for the pencil shavings. Sharpener

I had a similar pencil sharpener in my attic room as a child, having shoplifted it from a Five & Dime store (Kresge’s, I think). In my dream I thought about that sharpener, trying to remember whether it had a base that screwed onto a desk, or the rubber base with a lever that caused the base to stick to a flat smooth surface. And I wasn’t sure of the actual store. In thinking about all that, however, everything began to dissolve, and realized I was waking up, and couldn’t keep the dream alive. As always, I over think everything, even in my dreams.

So I looked up Kresge’s, founded by Pennsylvanian native S.S. Kresge, who, after clerking in a hardware store, and working as a traveling salesman, had then worked for a five & dime himself, for McCrory’s. They were all actually called five-and-ten-cent stores, because that’s what everything cost. I believe that’s where the phrase to “nickel and dime” something came from, meaning to sell things very cheaply, even to sell everything off to rid oneself of excess merchandise. The stores had huge signs with the numbers: 5¢ and 10¢, aka a nickel and a dime. McCrorys 2

Later, Kresge started his own two stores with an $8000 investment. SS Kresge Over the years, Kresge, after bumping the price of goods to $1, made a fortune. In fact, he established a foundation, in 1924, The Kresge Foundation, a non-profit organization whose income he specified “to promote the well-being of mankind”. By the time of his death, Kresge had given the foundation over $60,000,000! He was also a prohibitionist, and organized the National Vigilance Committee for Prohibition Enforcement and also heavily supported the Anti-Saloon League. The S.S. Kresge chain (Kresge and Jupiter stores) later became K-Mart. I had often wondered what happened to K-Mart. More on that in a minute.

Now, I believe we had both a Kresge’s and a McCrory’s in the city I grew up in, so I’m not certain which one I purloined the sharpener from. McCrory’s was owned by another Pennsylvanian native, J.M McCrorey, who famously dropped the “e” from his last name to save money on signage for his initial five stores. At its height, McCrory’s had 1300 stores. Interestingly, S.S. Kresge had invested in the McCrory stores before opening his own.

Now, the McCrory stores are quite interesting in themselves, for the way they became involved with or swallowed up other more modern brands. Of the 1300 stores operated by the McCrory company, many were TG&Y, McLellan, H. L. Green, Silvers, G.C. Murphy, J.J. Newberry and Otasco. I’m sure you’ve shopped at some of those. McCrory’s also controlled Best & Co., Lerner Shops, and S. Klein.

On January 1, 1980, McCrory purchased the S.H. Kress & Co. chain from Genesco. You may remember the S.H. Kress & Co. when its exclusion of African-Americans from its lunch counters made Kress a target for civil rights protests during the 1960 sit-ins, along with Woolworth’s, Rexall and other national chains. S.H. Kress & Co. was established by Samuel Henry Kress, another Pennsylvanian. Kress started his first five and dime store in 1887, which became the chain known as S.H. Kress & Co. in 1896, and were called 5-10-25 Cent Stores. Kress SC Building The Kress chain was known for the architecture of its buildings. Kress envisioned his stores as works of public art that would contribute to the cityscape. A number of former Kress stores are recognized as architectural landmarks and many are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the 1913 building on Canal Street in New Orleans (now the New Orleans Ritz-Carlton) and the 1929 neoclassical store in Asheville, North Carolina.

As the economic expansion of the 1980’s progressed, so did the successes of McCrory.

McCrory purchased the Oklahoma based TG&Y Discount store chain in 1985. TG&Y stores were not profitable and drained McCrory of valuable assets. Many of the TG&Y stores were converted to the Bargain Time banner that McCrory operated, which closed as the 1980’s ended.

In 1987, McCrory Stores purchased the 76 remaining Kresge and Jupiter stores from the K Mart Corporation which had long given up on the variety stores division, reuniting the companies. All stores were converted to the McCrory banner.

S. S. Kresge Corporation – remember them? – had been renamed to Kmart Corporation in 1977. Kmart_original_logo (The first store with the Kmart name had opened in 1962.) At its peak in 2001, Kmart operated 2,171 stores including 105 Super Kmart Center locations. After declaring bankruptcy in 2002 and emerging the following year, the chain’s management purchased Sears for $11 billion in 2004, forming a new corporation under the name Sears Holdings Corporation. Sears Holdings declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy on October 15, 2018.

In 1989, 1300 stores were operated by the McCrory company. However, as the decade turned, its fortunes decreased, and by 1992 it filed for bankruptcy. Several rounds of store closures followed, with one of the biggest coming in 1997 when McCrory’s shuttered 300 of its last 460 stores. The company also converted some stores to the Dollar Zone format of Dollar Store, but these closed in early 2002. In December 2001, McCrory Stores announced the remaining McCrory’s, TG&Y, G. C. Murphy and J.J. Newberry stores it was operating would begin liquidating and in February 2002 the company ceased operation.

Now, we have Walmart. Surprise, surprise, surprise – it wasn’t started in Pennsylvania, but in Arkansas, as another five and dime store. Walton's_Five_and_Dime

In 1945, businessman and former J. C. Penney employee Sam Walton bought a branch of the Ben Franklin stores from the Butler Brothers. Ben Franklin His primary focus was selling products at low prices to get higher-volume sales at a lower profit margin, portraying it as a crusade for the consumer. As of October 31, 2018, Walmart has 11,277 stores and clubs in 27 countries, operating under 55 different names, including Sams’ Club, Asda in the United Kingdom, as the Seiyu Group in Japan, and as Best Price in India. Walmart is the world’s largest company by revenue—over US$500 billion, according to Fortune Global 500 list in 2018. For those of you watching videos online: Walmart owns video streaming company Vudu.

Walmart is the largest private employer in the world with 2.3 million employees. Walmart  faced a torrent of lawsuits and issues with regards to its workforce, involving low wages, poor working conditions, inadequate health care, and issues involving the company’s strong anti-union policies. In November 2013, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that it had found that in 13 U.S. states Wal-Mart had pressured employees not to engage in strikes on Black Friday, and had illegally disciplined workers who had engaged in strikes. Critics point to Walmart’s high turnover rate as evidence of an unhappy workforce, although other factors may be involved. Approximately 70 percent of its employees leave within the first year. Welcome to Walmart.

In 2009, Walmart announced that it was paying a combined US$933.6 million in bonuses to every full and part-time hourly worker. This was in addition to $788.8 million in profit sharing, 401(k) pension contributions, hundreds of millions of dollars in merchandise discounts, and contributions to the employees’ stock purchase plan. While the economy at large was in an ongoing recession, Walmart reported solid financial figures for the most recent fiscal year (ending January 31, 2009), with $401.2 billion in net sales, a gain of 7.2 percent from the prior year. Income from continuing operations increased 3 percent to $13.3 billion, and earnings per share rose 6 percent to $3.35.

Walmart has been subject to criticism from various groups and individuals, including labor unions, community groups, grassroots organizations, religious organizations, environmental groups, and the company’s own customers and employees. They have protested against the company’s policies and business practices, including charges of racial and gender discrimination. Other areas of criticism include internal corruption, the company’s foreign product sourcing, treatment of suppliers, employee compensation and working conditions, environmental practices, the use of public subsidies, the company’s security policies, slavery, and violations of U.S. and Mexican laws. Through years of strikes, boycotts and lawsuits, the company appears to be modifying its practices, including environmental impacts, labor practices, discrimination, nutritional quality of its food products, and other areas of criticism.

We’ve come a long way from the five and dime. Jimmy Dean

Posted in Dreams, history, rambling | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

 
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