Rita was sixteen years, hazel eyes and chestnut hair. / She made the Woolworth counter shine. / And Eddie was a sweet romancer / —And darn good dancer—/ And they’d waltz the aisles of the five-and-dime . . . / And they’d sing: ‘Dance a little closer to me; / Dance a little closer . . . / It’s closing time . . . tonight at this five-and-dime.’”
Singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith’s hometown memories inspired that tune: “There was a very special building . . . It was called the Woolworth’s Store. Come to find out, they have Woolworth’s stores all over the world. The first time I went to London, we drove up in front of one … I wanted them to stop the car so I could get out and go fill up my suitcase … But all Woolworth’s stores are special.”
At an evening campfire, my siblings and I recently remembered one very special store: Manville’s Variety Store, Grangeville’s own “five-and-dime.” Manville’s aisles included magic: miniature toy cars; live goldfish in water-filled plastic bags; single multi-colored marbles for a boy’s tight budget. My sisters remember Manville’s had tiny shoes for barefoot dollies; also, paper dolls to accessorize with cut-out wardrobes. Manville’s Variety Store is gone, along with Vern’s and Howard’s (grocery stores who—get this—delivered to your doorstep).
Grangeville shoppers now drive 70 miles each way to shop megastores with mega-quantities: 10 gallons of pre-popped popcorn; a five-year supply of deodorant; enough dog food to feed a kennel 10 years; a lifetime supply of mouthwash. Some shop online with anonymous people 1,000 miles away.
Like dance steps we forget, like friends and family we know only from a distance, family-owned stores just slip away. Somehow I think we’ve lost something in the bargain.
“So, they married up in Abilene, lost a child in Tennessee. / But still that love survived. / ’Cause they’d sing: ‘Dance a little closer to me. / Dance a little closer. / It’s closing time . . . tonight at this five-and-dime.’”