My earliest dime store recollection involves a lunchtime outing with my Mom from Quisling Clinic where she worked as a therapist, to the Woolworth’s store on the capitol square. I was probably five years old and I remember eyeing coconut-covered donuts in a glass cake stand at the coffee counter. Mom likely bought nylons or Nivea hand cream, and she allowed me to choose a toy from the glorious aisles of plastic-encased plastic. I selected a miniature nursing kit and proudly shared it with the real nurses at the clinic upon our return.
A female’s relationship with her Five and Dime varies drastically according to her phase of development, and serves as a barometer for her well-being.
For a pre-schooler that waxed drug store aisle provides a sensory table with hidden gems under display cases like errant Smarties or lost pennies. A stage for both backspin and tantrum, the shiny hall of pretties doubles as the dream crusher known as Not today dear, maybe next time. I still want that Crayon-shaped make-up for girls. Debbie Siegel got it, why not me dammit?
An older kid’s drug store heart beats only for the candy counter. I used my power of reasoning to solve complicated algorithms involving which candy to buy, and when to eat it. I could get the Sprees and the Twix and maybe just eat one of the Twix before Hebrew School and then still have BOTH the sprees AND the bonus Twix for break time. I’m going to suck on a few sprees while I think about it. And a bite of this Twix. I’d ponder and space--eating my entire stash--inevitably begging Nibs off Ellen or Sam at break time, suffering the humiliation of begging for more Nibs and more Nibs yet never feeling satisfied of Nibs.
The pre-teen straddles multiple territories--with one toe in the make-up aisle, another digit considering the mystery of the Hostess Sno-ball. Her torso remains planted in candy while her eyes and limbs simultaneously attract and avoid the hair removal and deodorant echelons. I dabbled in Nair—giving myself an inadvertent chemical peel or two--and even purchased a do-it-yourself home electrolysis kit I never used. Something about home-electrolysis administered by me--a 12 year old who couldn’t even French-braid my own hair--made me squeamish on top of the shame of an apparent endocrine imbalance. So I threw the whole thing out. Too much allowance? Meet endless hours of after school neurosis.
Teenage girls maintain their affair with the make-up and the candy aisles, with perhaps a dalliance at cigarettes upon check out. They take special care to avoid any public appearance at Pink Floyd’s The Wall of Maxipads.
College kids and young adults need only gum, contraception, nail polish remover, greeting cards and cheap wine from their Walgreens or Rite Aid. Maybe they’d get some photos developed—back when that phrase translated into words that made sense. Caveat: Unless they’re hosting a dinner party, requiring a Tostino Party Pizza or something savory from Dinty Moore.
Fast-forward to the postpartum years: The Five and Dime becomes your Eat and Breathe. Entire aisles you never knew existed until a being blasts out of your lower-half appear like Harry Potter’s first trip through Diagon Alley. Sitz Bath? Witch Hazel? Inflatable donut? YOU’LL BE NEEDING SOME OF THOSE, YOUNG HARRY. Midnight trips for wipes or Ambusol, breast pads or Boons—Just run really fast toward the diapers and everything you need to know will suddenly appear and drain all of your Sickles and Knuts!
After the baby years and before the silver years (God-willing and in good health), Mr. Woolworth grants us some reprieve. I rarely go to my neighborhood pharmacy these days except to siphon cash from the ATM, or pick up something overpriced I should’ve purchased elsewhere. Of course, when I go in for a book of stamps, that familiar complicated algorithm leaves me with crackled nail polish, cucumber-scented face-wash and economy-sized Nerds candy. Carpe five and dime!