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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Forgotten Shopping: Remember When.....

(Late greetings to the New Year. I have had a lot of health issues as of late. So I haven't been much for writing. Hope this finds you well. - Larry)

Woolworth, JCPenney, Lucky, Pay N' Save & Fredrick & Nelson, Aurora Village, Seattle, WA, circa late '60s.
Woolworths: The ORIGINAL "dime store". Woolworth's was one of the most popular discount department stores of the last century. EVERYBODY'S Mom shopped there and the prices were amongst the most reasonable anywhere. Which might have been their downfall. 

It seems like the prices at Woolworth's, which were the cheapest anywhere also corresponded to the quality of some of their products (which were mostly off-brand names made in Taiwan by almost totally anonymous "corporations" - Sound familiar?)

Then there was their cafeterias (or "Luncheonettes".) Historically, they're reviled as racist relics from an uglier time - especially in the South. But they was fully integrated by the '70s and the food I remember they served in the '70s was prepared by elderly women and reflected a different time. Yes, greasy kid stuff like cheeseburgers were served, but so were "blue plate specials" like meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy and the like - even liver and onions. 

The downtown Seattle store, a virtual institution since the '20s closed in 1993. They even still had the ORIGINAL candy center, in the middle of the store which sold licorice by the rope and candy bins that had remained almost unchanged - other then actual product, until 1993. It was a very sad day for me and countless others when it closed. I remembered seeing a lot of young people at that candy area that their grandparents probably had fun at when THEY were teenagers...

The Bon Marche: The Bon Marche was a formal department store chain in the Puget Sound area. It used to sell a variety of items, but later began focusing on women's clothes, kitchenware and jewelry. 

The name was shortened to "The Bon" in 1980 

.....and the full name was restored in 1990. 

In 1997, The Bon Marche chain was sold to Macy's and Macy's operated the chain as the ridiculous sounding Bon-Macy's.....

.....before dropping the Bon reference altogether in 2003, and today operates the stores as Macy's.

Frederick & Nelson: Another upper crust department store chain in the Puget Sound area. Like The Bon Marche, it started out as a general (but somewhat upper class department store), but soon specialized in clothing and jewelry. 

Frederick & Nelson was a local institution during the holiday season with their annual picture takings with Santa Claus and had a local favourite holiday candy called "Frangos". 

But Frederick & Nelson's style of clothing selection was extremely stuffy and people were increasingly turned off by the expensive and conservative attire Frederick & Nelson always specialized in by the '80s. They closed in 1990. Macy's today now carries the Frango holiday candy.

Rhodes: A Bon Marche competitor in the Puget Sound from the '20s to the early '70s. Rhodes was purchased by in the late '60s and in the early '70s became Lamont's. 

Their now demolished downtown Seattle building once supported an extremely rare wire rooftop AM transmitting antenna (which were outdated by 1930!) for radio station KXA 770 AM until 1984, which was STILL in use until then! (the station also used to have a funny noise underneath it's fairly weak signal....) KXA spent much of it's life as an independent classical music station before changing to Oldies, Rock, Religious and finally Adult Standards before being sold to a country broadcaster. After a few decades of varying call letter and format changes, 770 AM in Seattle is now KTTH, a conservative talk station.
Rhode's old downtown Seattle, with KXA Radio's original rooftop antenna system. The site is now occupied by Benaroya Hall

White Front: The thing about White Fronts was you knew one when you saw one. A HUGE white painted semi-circular arch greeted you as you entered the store and like Woolworth, everything was dirt cheap. But too much expansion and not enough capital forced it's quick demise in the mid-'70s. Most stores were sold to K-Mart, but none retained the familiar "White Front" arch.

A typical White Front entrance:

The same Anaheim, CA White Front store, abandoned since the '70s in 1981. It mysteriously burned to the ground a few months after these were taken:


K-mart: Still in operation, but barely. The last time I entered a K-mart in Burlington, WA was a few months ago and it was a near time warp. Brands I haven't seen in DECADES that I thought were totally defunct reappeared (Rath Black Hawk Hot Dogs, Andy Capp's Hot Fries, etc.) It's now a subsidiary of Sears (itself a struggling icon department store.)

Montgomery Ward: Now defunct since 2001 (they were dying by the '70s due to their inability to keep up with current trends, which was PAINFULLY apparent by the '80s. They were STILL selling 8-Track tape players in 1985!) The name continues on via an unrelated catalog company.

Jafco: Jafco was a Puget Sound "catalog showroom", a concept of retail marketing I never understood because unlike most department stores where you could get what you want off the shelf. Most Jafco items were on display and there was a warehouse of everything in the back. You had to order these items from the mail-delivery catalog - in the actual showroom, write out a ticket and wait for a stock person to go get it. And these stock people I swore moved with the speed of well,...the mail. 

Jafco was bought out by Best (a similar chain - go figure) in 1982 and changed their name to Best by 1987. And Best went belly up by 1995. Jafco/Best DID have good products though and their prices were pretty reasonable.Here's more on Best including their STRANGE looking showroom facades.

Wigwam Discount Stores: Wigwam was a discount department store chain based in Seattle, WA. Wigwam had it's own loss leader - free popcorn. But sadly, it was rarely fresh popped and it was often stale - to the point of GROSS. I actually got a bag that was MOLDY. It started out selling Army surplus goods (a product Wigwam sold until the end), which made Wigwam a favourite among men, but it also expanded into general merchandise by the '60s. It was defunct by 1983 (damn that popcorn!)


  1. I was just thinking about Jafco today. I'm not sure how a store from years past suddenly pops into your mind while making dinner. :) I tried relating it to Amazon before the internet. Were they just too far ahead of the times?

  2. Wow, seeing that picture of Woolworth's and the other stores at Aurora Village took be back to my childhood. Remember Pay N Save and Lucky store more when they were located closer to Ernst than what the picture shows. At what location was The Wigwam at? Remember the one in Edmonds on Highway 99 more and this picture didn't look like that one.

  3. Downtown Tacoma died for me when our Woolworth's store closed in late 1993...hard to believe it's been 20 years now!

  4. Wow, Jafco, back in the late 70's to early 80's that store seemed to have everything. Good memories.

    1. I agree. I bought a pair of leather gloves in 1978 from downtown Jafco, and they are still usable. I also bought a 7" blade Schrade hunting knife that cost $18!! Great place and no -hassle shopping. Pity they closed.

  5. We had a WigWam, on Canyon Road in Beaverton, Oregon, in the 60's and early 70's, I think (I was a kid, I can barely remember it). We had a Jafco, up until in the 90's I think it was, when the store then became an Asian store called Iwajumyia (not sure if I spelled that correctly). We never had a White Front in the Beaverton area, as far as I know of, or a Zody's either. Unfortunately, Woolworth's (in downtown Portland) and J.J. Newberry's (at the Lloyd Center in NE Portland) were on their way out, when I was a child and a teenager in the 70's, so I never really got to enjoy either one. We have a K-Mart (now Big K) here in Beaverton, it manages to hang on, has had at least 2 remodels in the past 20 or so years, but how it hangs on, I have no idea. Fred G. Meyers abound, and sadly, so do Target stores. I miss Payless, before it turned into Rite Aide, and became higher than a kite to shop at. We had a store for a short time in the late 60's/early 70's, called Bazaar, but it was short lived, I think it was on Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy., if I remember correctly.

    1. Your memory serves you well,I remember them all.Do you remember Prairie mkt,The white Elephant,Shaky,s Pizza,The Showboat,The China Lantern,Senn's Drive-in,Welches Taco House,to name a few?

    2. We had a Prairie Market and a Shaky's in Anacortes. WigWam, Fred Meyer, Payless, Bon Marche in Mt. Vernon

  6. What about Elvins department store? My mom worked at the Elvins in Puyallup until it closed in the late 80s.

  7. Anybody remember the Bonanza 88 chain of five and dime stores? I think our downtown Bonanza 88 in Olympia went under around the same time as Jafco became Best...

  8. I really miss stores like FWW, Ames etc. Nowadays if you need to buy: 1.) Some thread - in any color besides black or white 2.) Potting soil & a plant to go with 3.) Underwear 4.) A tool box 5.) Watercolor brushes and 6.) A piece of poster board - it involves ten trips to seven different stores and probably an on-line order to boot. It seemed like no matter how small the Woolworth's they at least had a bit of everything. Maybe not the ideal "everything" - but you didn't waste an entire day shopping for a handful of items nowadays spread out over specialty only stores.

  9. House of Values......Arctic Circle

  10. Kent had two arctic circles,wigwam on the benson,Ben Franklins, had to go to Renton for bigger stores lol


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