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View from a Seat at Woolworth's Counter

A look back at Woolworth's and the treat of eating a the luncheonette counter.

Back by popular demand is the following narrative on the mystique of Woolworth's, in case you missed it when it was first published:

The year was 1965. A trip to the dentist in Red Bank meant earning the treat of a burger plate and a cherry Coke at Woolworth's.

The dentist, Dr. Costa, had an office in a house on Front Street. He was a nice enough fella who smiled and quipped about how he could tell that I had eaten an Oreo as he prodded my teeth with those scary looking tools.

We'd walk from Fair Haven to town, as my mom called it. People back then always just referred to Red Bank as downtown or town — their downtown. Anyone in the area went to "town" in Red Bank for such things. Mom knew the trip was painful enough, between the walk to what I knew as a torture pit manned by a friendly, toothy-smiling man. So she always tried to scrape some change together for that little after-dentist treat — Woolworth's.

And it's something I never forgot. How could you? I'm pretty confident that just about anyone who grew up in the area has his or her fondest Woolworth's counter memory. Mine was that cherry Coke and a burger that, of course, I split with Mom. We couldn't afford two. Still, it was a luxury for me then and my own bowl of chicken soup memory to soothe decades later.

According to this 1965 ad in the Red Bank Register from Woolworth's, it really was a luxury at the time. After all, the store had just remodeled and expanded. "We congratulate F.W. Woolworth Co. on bringing more to Red Bank," the ad said. It boasted "two floors of merchandise in a wide variety" and, of course, the spiffy luncheon counter.

They called it the Woolworth Luncheonette. "The ultimate in comfort, service and good food is YOURS at the distinctly different WOOLWORTH LUNCHEONETTE," the ad said.

Oh, and it was distinctly different alright. Though at the time, I thought it was really cool, first of all, that anyone was waiting on us. Then there was the treat of the brashly friendly waitresses with odd shades of hair color, hair nets and little crown-like hats and matching dime store uniforms.

I thought they had a special liking for Mom and me, because each called us "Hun" and would chat and listen intently with a lean over the counter, cigarette adroitly dangling from one side of the mouth and plate balanced atop one hand. They were very sincere about their interest in how many cavities I had and what little treat the dentist gave me for being good. He had a treasure box for the pickin' and we didn't even have insurance. Imagine that.

And the trill of the burger … Well, it was a treat that doting mothers nowadays would probably call DYFS about now. "Delectable to the last crumb," the ad said of what was a gourmet meal to me then at 70 cents. Yes, 70 cents! You can't even get a glass of water for 70 cents now. "Choice beef cooked to your order" is what it was, according to the ad. "Served with potato spears, cole slaw or tomato." Holy burger patty! A burger WITH fries for 70 cents — and cooked to your liking?

The real treat was the entire experience, never mind price. There were so many sights and sounds to take in. There was the conversing with the burger-slinging, cigarette smoking waitress, watching them juggle flipping the burgers on the greasy grill and scrape it methodically. The smoking was cool then. Watching the fountain drinks bubble up in the counter-top fountain, like a makeshift lava lamp was mesmerizing — to me anyway. Ahhh, and the combo smell of onions, ground beef (or whatever it was) and

Oh and there was a lot of shake and sundae making to watch. The banana splits were 39 cents, made with "3 large dips of ice cream, choice of popular flavors, whipped cream topping and crunchy roasted nuts." Sometimes we'd just have one of those. Hey, money was tight. A "JUMBO" ice cream sandwich was 9 cents. And the, of course, there were the people we'd run into as if we were at a charity ball on Broad Street.

Hey, they had clothes at Woolworth's, too. Shifts and jumpers were $2.99 each, according to the ad. Oh, and you could get yourself a pair of "fashion pumps" for $2.99 to $3.99. Fancy the idea of that outfit at a ball. OK, so the more affluent always went into the city for designer duds. But, hey, we'd pick up a pattern or two to sew a jumper together. And, the material was 33 to 39 cents a yard.

So, grab your mom, a nice shift and some fashion pumps. Meet me at the Woolworth's Luncheonette counter for a visit "downtown" on memory lane.

What are your memories of counter time at Woolworth's? Tell us in the comments section below. 
Ken Barber December 14, 2013 at 11:38 AM
Woolworth was a nice store. I think they were done in by the grocery Super Stores. Everyone has to eat so there was at least one weekly visit to the supermarket. The Super Stores carried just about everything that Woolworth's carried, so why visit Woolworth....

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