Living History from Utica’s Woolworth’s Store Turning 50?
It's hard to believe it's been 23 years since the Woolworth's Five and Dime stores officially closed their doors for good. The first Woolworth's opened in Utica in 1878 and it was a retail game-changer. As the years went by, the store grew leaps and bounds and there are still nostalgic remnants from the store around today and some of them are actually alive (note the photo of a turtle above). But, let's start from the beginning.
The concept of the 5 and 10 cent store began on Bleecker Street in Utica when Frank Winfield Woolworth thought that having a store where people could browse items priced affordably, would be a success. Initially, he failed and quickly closed the Utica store and moved the operation (along with his storefront sign) to Lancaster, PA. There, he would have great success and would duplicate the concept in markets all over the world, including back in Utica. The company would eventually go public and become the largest department store in the world, until it closed for good in 1997.
In downtown Utica, Woolworth's was a staple offering everything from clothing and hardware to diner fare and ice cream floats. Woolworth's also had a pet department and in the 1950s and 60s sold the "Red Eared Slider" turtles that people purchased as pets for their kids. Ruth Cohen was one of those parents who purchased the tiny turtle for her kids, 50 years ago on September 15, 1970. Sadly, Ruth has since passed but amazingly, the turtle is still alive.
Her son Lawrence Cohen sent out an update to people in the Mohawk Valley declaring the long-time pet, "happy, alive and well."
So, while Woolworth's is simply a memory of a time that has passed, the Woolworth turtle lives on as a treasured pet in the Cohen household.
Listen to an interview Lawrence Cohen did with WIBX's Keeler Show back in 2018.