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Frank Woolworth opened a store in Utica, New York in February of 1879. It failed three months later. He tried again in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He used the same sign he brought with him from Utica: Woolworth’s Great Five Cent Store. That store was also a failure. Woolworth then went to Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he opened a 5¢ and 10¢ store where he sold biscuit cutters, gravy strainers, pepper boxes, candlesticks, baseballs, tack hammers, pie plates, shaving brushes, shovels, handkerchiefs, novelties and notions. 

For 55 years, Woolworth’s would sell only items costing 5¢ or 10¢

In 1910, Frank had picked up enough nickels and dimes to commission his own skyscraper. Built in New York City, the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world. By 1913, Frank had more than 500 stores.

Lunch counters

Woolworth added lunch counters that were so popular they became community gathering places that were the forerunners of the mall food courts that would come years later. In 1960, a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina was the site of sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement protesting the store’s Whites Only – No Colored policy, a time-honored tradition of the Jim Crow South.

In 1932, Woolworth added a line of 20¢ items

Three years later, the company discontinued price limits. In 1962, Woolworth’s opened a chain of discount department stores called Woolco, Kresge opened the KMart stores and Sam Walton opened his first Wal-Mart. The very next year, Woolworth’s bought the Kinney Shoe Corporation and used it to develop the final incarnation of the Woolworth’s store, Foot Locker.

Frank made one move that stills works in stores everywhere

He said he didn’t know much about the candy business, but in his opinion, the way to make a big success of candy was to put it near the door so that people can be reminded of it on their way out.

Dollar stores

What are now called dollar stores are reaching the same point as the old five and dimes. Dollar Stores, Dollar General and the 99¢ Only store have all pushed past their price limits and some are considering renaming the stores to reflect the change. Dollar Tree has already changed its name once. In 1993 they changed the name from Only $1 to “address what could be a multi-price-point strategy in the future.”

Many businesses failed to choose a name that would remain relevant over time

A fast food outfit painted themselves into a burger corner twice when they changed their name from Insta-Burger King to Burger King. McDonald’s and Wendy’s didn’t. Kentucky Fried Chicken was a one-trick pony, too, until they changed their name to KFC. Dunkin finally got out of the too-limiting Donut corner. Stores named Only Batteries and Just Carpets now absurdly refer to themselves as Only Batteries and More and Not Just Carpets.

Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web

Did you know that was Yahoo!’s first name? Weight Watchers followed the KFC road map and changed their name to WW. I guess no one cared it takes an awkward six syllables to pronounce and is recognized by most as the abbreviation for World War.

Did you know Google was once Backrub?

The co-founders called it Backrub because it analyzed the web’s back links. The founders chose to switch to the mathematical term googol to represent the vastness of the data they were indexing. The graduate student who had been instructed to register the domain name googol mistyped it.

Brad’s Drink

Caleb Davis Bradham invented a flavored carbonated water he called Brad’s Drink. He rebranded in 1898 with a name that was intended to convey that this was a health drink that cured indigestion. Back then, the condition was called dyspepsia and his new name was Pepsi-Cola, used for years until they dumped the cola. 

What’s in a name?
  • Nike began as Blue Ribbon Sports.
  • Best Buy started life as the Sound of Music.
  • Subway was once Pete’s.
  • The Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation became IBM.
  • Snapple was born as Unadulterated Food Products.
  • The Electro-Alkaline Company became Clorox.
  • Target was once known as Goodfellow’s Dry Goods Company.
  • When John Hertz bought the Drivurself car rental company, he named it after himself.

Stacy Conradt wrote about one particular company that changed its name

The company founder was keen to name his young business Relentless but his friends thought the name was too sinister. He suggested Cadabra, wanting to capitalize on the magical connotation of abracadabra. The name was nixed when someone told the boss that cadabra sounded too much like cadaver. They settled on Amazon because it started with an A and it’s big. 

Today companies are scrambling to avoid being considered racist

The Frito Bandito has disappeared. Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are both dead, and you can’t eat an Eskimo Pie at their funerals. Proctor and Gamble removed the “Señor Sleepy” mascot from Spic and Span and it’s only a matter of time before someone notices how Span’s partner is an ethnic slur even more offensive than Señor Sleepy.

A former maid and cook, Hattie McDaniel was an actress who played maids and cooks in the movies

Hattie McDaniel won an Academy Award for playing a slave in Gone With The Wind. She was chosen for the role of Mammy when she showed up for the audition in a maid’s uniform. The movie’s Atlanta premiere was at a whites-only theater and she could not attend. At the Oscars ceremony in Los Angeles, McDaniel was seated at a segregated table with one friend and her agent. In her acceptance speech, she said she sincerely hoped that “I shall always be a credit to my race.”

McDaniel was criticized by many blacks and whites for playing happy and obedient cook and maid roles that perpetuated negative racial stereotypes

The head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said McDaniel discredited her race by playing subservient roles. McDaniel said she was free to take whatever roles she wanted to play, and furthermore, she believed she played black women as capable of achieving far more than cooking and cleaning for white folks. My favorite Hattie McDaniel quote? “I’d rather make seven hundred dollars playing a maid than seven dollars being one.” McDaniel donated her Oscar to Howard University to be displayed as a source of pride and inspiration for future generations of students.

When she died in 1952, Hattie McDaniel left instructions that she wanted to be buried with her fellow actors in the Hollywood Cemetery

The whites-only cemetery denied her wish. In the violence immediately following the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, radical students at Howard University called her Oscar a horrible symbol of racial stereotyping and destroyed it. In 1999, the new owners of the Hollywood Cemetery rebranded the place Hollywood Forever. They offered to rebury Hattie’s body there but her family said no.

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