ByKen Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Customers enter the F.W. Woolworth store on Fort Street
Mall today. Woolworth Corp. says it is closing all 400 of the
five-and-dime stores across the country, including the
13 in Hawaii. The move will cut 731 jobs here.

Woolworth closing
all isle stores

The company will shut its 400
five-and-dimes across the nation

By Rick Daysog

Woolworth Corp., a fixture in Hawaii's retail business since the late 1950s, will close all of its 13 isle stores, laying off 731 employees, as it gets out of the general merchandise business nationwide.

The New York-based company announced it will close 400 of its F.W. Woolworth stores nationwide, laying off 9,200 workers in 35 states.

About 100 of the stores will be converted into Foot Locker, Champs Sports and other stores owned by Woolworth Corp. A company spokesman said some Hawaii employees may be offered jobs in converted stores. However, the company did not say how many, if any, local stores will be converted.

Woolworth logo

Last year, the company's F.W. Woolworth stores nationwide reported an operating loss of $37 million.

"We made a very difficult decision to close our domestic F.W. Woolworth ... operations to help assure the continued profitable growth of the Woolworth Corporations," said Roger Farah, chairman and chief executive officer. "Despite our best efforts and the hard work of the F.W. Woolworth team, the business continued to lose money and it became clear that F.W. Woolworth would be unable, in the foreseeable future, to return to profitability as well as meet our minimum performance standards."

Stores closings will occur over the next several months and conversions will take place during the year, said Woolworth spokesman Adam Weiner. He said that the company plans to liquidate its inventory and fixtures later this month.

Woolworth, which opened its first Hawaii store at the Kahala Mall in 1958, is the latest in a line of well-established isle retailers that have pulled out or closed the doors.

Cornet Stores, which has operated variety stores in Hawaii since the mid 1950s, closed its last isle location in April and GEM of Hawaii Inc. closed its last store in 1993.

Over the last decade, Woolworth has been tinkering with its store mix, closing thousands of stores and slashing thousands of jobs. But the restructuring wasn't enough to reduce losses and save the stores.

In 1994, the company closed its 20,000-square-foot Windward Mall location and its smaller Lahaina Center store.

"The five-and-dime industry is defunct and has been defunct for at least 25 years," said Kurt Barnard, a retail consultant and president of Barnard's Retail Marketing Report.

"It lost reason for its being, with discount and specialty stores taking over its function."

F.W. Woolworth stores accounted for $1 billion of parent Woolworth Corp.'s $8 billion in annual sales, but the five-and-dime stores have failed to turn a profit.

Woolworth Corp.'s more profitable Foot Locker, Champs sporting goods, Northern Reflections apparel shops and other stores accounted for about $7 billion in sales.

The company plans to change its corporate name, to be announced later this year.

End of an era in retail

Local Woolworth customers
will lose a gathering place

By Rick Daysog

FOR generations of local consumers, it was the place to get a quick bite to eat, buy toothpaste or pick up a razor.

So when Woolworth Corp. today said it was closing its 13 local F.W. Woolworth stores as it exits the general merchandising business nationwide, it signaled the end of the era for variety stores here in Hawaii.

"I think it's sad that it's going," said Bill Woodward, a technical support manager at Digitel downtown. "I've known Woolworth's downtown for a long time."

At one time, five-and-dime stores were major players in the isles' retail scene. During the 1960s, retailers like Kress, Cornet Stores, GEM of Hawaii Inc. as well as Woolworth. But just as the old plantation stores lost out to the five-and-dime stores, the big-box retailers and discounters like Price/Costco, Kmart and Walmart have taken business away from the Woolworths, analysts said.

"Closing of the Woolworth stores is long overdue," said retail consultant Walter Loeb. "Today's Woolworth store was just not viable."

Tell that to the many isle customers who shop there nearly daily.

Honolulu resident Vivian Deyonot said she goes daily to the downtown Woolworth store to have a soda and talk story with friends. Deyonot, a retiree, said that she does much of her grocery shopping at Price/Costco and Longs Drug Stores. But much of her social life revolves around those meetings.

"I don't know what I'll do," she said outside the Fort Street Mall Woolworth this morning.

Punchbowl resident Charlie Gernler said he's been a customer of Woolworths for more than 20 years. The 56-year-old retiree said he and his wife Amelia often visit the downtown store to buy clothes or other items or just to spend time.

Woolworth was the original five-and-dime store, founded in 1879 in Lancaster, Pa., by Frank Woolworth. The stores boomed in prewar downtowns and became fixtures in suburban strip shopping centers.

Others, like McCrory Corp. and Ben Franklin, copied its concept, offering shoppers a mix of merchandise from beach chairs to beauty aids, all under one roof. They, too, have fallen in recent years, both landing in bankruptcy court.

Last year, the five-and-dime stores in the United States reported an operating loss of $37 million and only accounted for $1 billion of Woolworth Corp.'s annual sales of over $8 billion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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