Growing Up In The Dome Store Had Its Perks

I learned so much from working in and around a "Dime Store"


Dad worked in a dime store so our lives kind of revolved around his work and the dime store. According to the dictionary... A retail store selling a wide variety of inexpensive articles. Also called dime store, five-and-dime, ten-cent store.

The first successful 5&10 store was started by F. W. Woolworth in 1879. The first Woolworth stores in Illinois were opened in Springfield, Joliet, Aurora, and Decatur in 1904. Dime stores purchased in large quantities and sold inexpensive merchandise such as candy, toys, Christmas ornaments, and glassware priced below 10 cents. After the 1930s, slightly more expensive merchandise was added to the stores, but people continued to call them dime stores. What would you find in Dime stores? My dad (Paul William) came to California in 1937 and got a job (which was tough in those days!!) dressing windows in Ralph's 5&10&25 Cent Stores, Ralph David Leibowitz, proprietor! Dad was pretty good and within a short time, he was managing a new store in  Los Angeles, store #2, and then Pico Store #3.

Boss Blew His Top And Dad Quit!

In all the years my father worked for Ralph David Leibowitz, once did  our family every hear Dad "Blow his top".

Hula Hoop
The hula hoop was an amazing event. Everybody had to
have one for more of these little wonders!

Seems in 1958, dad was the toy buyer for Ralph's 5, 10 and 25.  At a toy show in Chicago, dad bought 100 gross (yes 14,400) Hula Hoops for the six stores.  When Ralph found out, he was furious.... something about "How could you do something so stupid!"

Dad came home early that day and told mom, "I quit!"

A day later, Ralph came over to the house and apologized over and over... they sold the 100 gross of Hula Hoops in a matter of two days!

Dad tried to buy more... but as you can see from the information on the right... nothing was available!  Guess he should have bought 1000 gross!!!

The Hula Hoop toy is the most popular American toy ever made. It is a brightly colored hoop of plastic which is rotated round and round the body by moving the hips. The toy was introduced by Wham-O Manufacturing´┐Ż in 1958. It cost $1.98, and it was so popular that stores kept running out. In the first six months, Americans purchased 20 million Hula Hoop toys. In 1958, 100 million were sold worldwide. All over the United States, people held Hula Hoop contests to see who could spin the longest.

The hoop is an ancient toy. It existed in ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and in 14th century England. (Of course, they didn't have plastic then.)

Missionaries to Hawaii in the 1700s, who saw the hula dance there, named the toy the "hula hoop." 
 Though wildly popular in the U.S., Japan banned the hoops. The Soviet Union said the Hula Hoop toy was an example of the "emptiness of American culture."  Wham-O manufactured 20,000 hoops a day at the peak of Hula Hoop popularity. The plastic tubing used for all Hula Hoop toys ever produced would stretch around the Earth more than five times. 

Fond Memories

The dime store was a fun place to be!  In the 1950/60's, I would work there in the summer and on a lot of weekends, I would join my dad in visiting the stores. Here are a few of my short form recollections:

Opening A New Store - Yippee.  Got to see everybody tipsy!!  Champagne flowed and adults giggled and told stories...about the good old days!

Easter!Oh how I loved to make the Easter baskets... let's see, one candy for the Easter Basket and one for me!  (Talk about sick! I still do not eat Easter candy after 40 years!!!)

Going To The Wholesalers - I would often go with dad to the wholesalers... one time (I was 7 or 8), the fellow we were visiting offered me anything in the warehouse.  Dad tried to get me to pick out a Red Radio Flyer Wagon.  What did I want you ask...I wanted some rope!  Dad almost shot me afterwards!

Packing Boxes - Every Monday during the summer, I would help dad "fill the orders".  The store managers would send in a written list and we would fill it.. meaning pull it off the shelf and put it on the floor.  I would go as fast as possible packing all of the items he placed onto the floor in cardboard boxes... and wheeling them to the panel truck for delivery! Trying to keep up with dad was a chore!

Christmas Party At Ralphs - Ralph was Jewish but Carolyn, his wife, was not! They threw a Christmas Party every year. I remember because that was the second time every year that dad got "drunk".  Mom would stay at the party for a while and then we would go home...  Mom would make sure dad got home safely afterwards! Ralph was a very gracious host!

Inventory In January - Although dad only finished the 5th grade, I can't this day figure out how he could  go through a page of numbers, extend them, and write the answer on the bottom... and never use a piece of paper, pencil or "calculator".

Fire In The Dime Store

I was probably in the fourth grade and upon arriving at the back gate, I saw Mom there looking worried.  She was always so stable that I knew something was wrong.  Indeed it was!  Mom said the Pico Store burnt down. 

Indeed there was a fire on a Thursday night and the fire was put out after a load of water was sprayed on the place.  We could not go into the store until Saturday morning and I remember hauling out a whole mess of stationary items, most of which were damaged.  I gave away crayolas to every kids in the school and I had slightly fried pencils for most of the rest of my school life.  No pens as ball-point pens had not yet been invented, or if they were, we not carried in the dime store.  We are talking 1953 or 1954.

The store was rebuilt with a larger basement, a new elevator, and nice new offices for Dad and the Boss.  Dad wasn't into offices and hardly ever was in it.

To this day I can still smell the smoke damage to that store.

Glass Cutter Par Excellence

Few will remember the old dime store counters but people used to be BEHIND the counters so they could help you decide and so they could restock the counters from the supplies below the counters.  You entered the counter from wither direction and these counters were 20-40 feet long, with a manual cash register in the center.

The counter itself had bins where the items were maintained and the dividers were made out of glass... Real honest to God glass.  One long piece of glass went from front to the back of the counter separating the counters into rows.  Wood with holes in either side were used to hold the pieces of glass that ran between the rows.  By using different size wood one could make bins 3,4,6,9,12, or 18 inches wide and the little holes were about 1/2 inch apart so you could stock anything.  The height of the bin above the wood was determined by the height of the glass.

We could make little bins for little items and large bins for large items or anywhere in-between.

Dad and I worked together relaying out older counters and putting in new ones.  He taught me to cut class without cutting off my finger.  I had a glass cutting tool.  I wore it with pride as Dad trusted my to cut up 36 inch long 12-wide glass blanks into whatever size we needed.

Glass cutter
Starnge looking tool! I'll bet I cut 1000's of pieces of glass with this little device.

Every few weeks I was put in charge of the glass cutting area and had to sort out the good glass from the bad, sort the glass into sizes and cut them into order, and keep everything organized.  I do remember the glass was heavy and it was not safety glass as we have today.  After we cut the glass we had to manually deburr the edges so fools would not cut themselves.

There used to be 1000's of these stores in the United States

Based upon society today, I'd hate to see the lawsuits from the phonies that would yell "Lawsuit!" when they touched the glass.

To the left is a picture of a Woolworths but it was not much different that Ralph's 5&10&25 cent stores except they had a lot more stores all over thr country!  Ralph's were not big enough to have soda fountains (if they had I would probably weigh 400 pounds)..

Dad and Ralph were proud of their business and we took pride in our work.  At the end of the glass cutting day, the bins were straight, no one would get cut, and all looked nice.

Going To The Valley

In the 1950's there were some stores in the San Fernando Valley and it was quite a trek through the Sepulveda Pass or via Cold Water Canyon. Coldwater Canyon is a canyon running perpendicular to the Santa Monica Mountains in the city of Los Angeles. It connects the community of Studio City in the San Fernando Valley with the city of Beverly Hills.

Hula Hoops

Dad had a form of polio and was often pulled around in a small wooden wagon because he had problems walking.... he soon outgrew that and began his lifelong friendship with Otis Tucker.

Dad and Otis left Arkansas in their early teens.... As Otis tells it, they jumped a freight train and several hours out of McRae, the railroad police found them in a box car. 

They jumped out opposite sides of the car. Otis headed south and Dad went north.   Dad ended up on Oklahoma where he met mom...around 1924.  Otis did not return into Dad\'s life until about 1936 when everybody was heading toward California!

Sign Making

Signs that were used in the dime stores in the 1950s/1960s were printed locally on a printing press located behind the scenes.  I know, I printed signs for my Dad for years.  What a mess!  We had black and red ink and printed on 4x6,5x7, or 8x10 white cardboard.

Just like olden days, we set the type manually, ran a roller across the letters, put the paper down, and then ran a roller across the back of the paper so as to assure the ink got to the paper.

What they didn't tell me is after every few weeks, the whole mess had to be thrown in a vat of cleaning solution and all the letters cleaned, the press had to be wiped down because, and rollers cleaned.  This was because no matter how hard you tried, ink got all over the place.

I can remember showing up for work on Saturday morning about 7:00 am and making signs for six hours straight.  It looked like fun, it was NOT fun after a long time.  And when you were done, you were not done.  You had to clean yourself up!

Riding The Conveyer Belt

Power transmission belt

A belt conveyor consists of two or more pulleys, with a continuous loop of material - the conveyor belt - that rotates about them. One or both of the pulleys are powered, moving the belt and the material on the belt forward. The powered pulley is called the drive pulley while the unpowered pulley is called the idler. There are two main industrial classes of belt conveyors; Those in general material handling such as those moving boxes along inside a factory and bulk material handling such as those used to transport industrial and agricultural materials, such as grain, coal, ores, etc. generally in outdoor locations. Generally companies providing general material handling type belt conveyors do not provide the conveyors for bulk material handling. In addition there are a number of commercial applications of belt conveyors such as those in grocery stores. 

In those days safety mechanisms were not a foolproof as today.  It would have been easy to get ground up in the machines.  Tom and I used to ride them up and down from the basement of some of the stores when Dad wasn't lookin!

Staying With It

Dad stayed with Ralph's 5, 10 and 25 Cent stores until his retirement in 1970.  The chain grew to about 15 stores which were located all over the LA area including even one in Big Bear, California. 

I have fond memories of helping Dad on the holidays and during openings of new stores!  Going "downtown" to see new merchandise was always fun... we got to see the new things before they hit the market!

Oh... when the stores were finally sold off, they became The 99 Cent Stores!!

I guess Dad taught me a lot since I have been with the Boeing Company 40 years myself and my wonderful wife has been with Boeing 33 years.

What Smells Ralph??

Ralph, Dads boss, always liked having anew Cadillac.. In 1955, in fact July 17th of 1955, we went to the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim with Ralph and his brand new Cadillac El Dorado.

I still remember the smell of burnt brakes in this brand new car... I wonder if it was the new fangled emergency brake release?

1955 Cad On the way home that long long day, Dad and I kept smelling something and it wasn't normal.  If memory serves be correctly, Ralph, Carolyn, and Paula were in the front seat while Dad, Mom and I were in the back.  Do you remember when front seats were called bench seats and could fit 3-4 people?

Anyway, after almost 40 minutes of driving on the Freeway we pulled over and noticed the tires were very hot. Dad thought it might be the brakes.  When we started up again, ad noticed a small red light on the dash and voila, that is how were determined the emergency brake was on.