A term seldom heard anymore is the “dime store” or Five and Ten stores.
For many, the dime store left fond memories of the big shopping days on Saturdays when the sidewalks were so crowded it was easier to walk along the parked cars on the traffic side than to try to get through the mass of people standing and talking. These stores were primarily in the smaller communities typically in the center or near center of the town, with the larger stores such as Frank Woolworth’s Five and Dime and TG&Y located in the larger cities.
Seguin had our own “dime store” called Duke and Ayres, located at the northwest corner of Austin and Court streets. The building was originally the Moses Campbell building, built in the late 1800s. The store had two entrances, one on Court Street and one on Austin Street with the Corner Drug Store taking up the corner. In the crowded drug store, counter cokes were a nickel and cherry cokes were 10 cents. Duke and Ayres later bought out the drug store and made that portion of the building its furniture department.
Duke and Ayres was a chain store that originated in Bowie in 1893 and grew to 35 stores. Advertisements in 1925 listed 12- and 14-quart galvanized buckets for 25 cents. A broom cost 35 cents. In the kitchen department, there were bargains such as 48-ounce glass pitchers for 15 cents, 12-ounce drinking glasses were 5 cents each and large salad bowls were 25 cents.
In the stationery department, pen points (steel dip points) were six for 5 cents. Ink pens were used by this writer and my classmates in the 1950s. Teachers usually kept ink bottles on their desks where students could fill their pens. Some desks even had a hole on the top right side for an ink well. Big Chief writing tablets were 5 cents and No. 2 pencils were two for 5 cents. Loose-leaf binders were 15 and 25 cents. Bright yellow and green boxes of crayons were 10 cents.
Bulk candy cases were usually placed near the entrances or in the center of the stores. The candy case in Seguin’s Duke and Ayres was in the center of the store. At that time, there were few pre-packaged bags or boxes of candy. The bulk candy was sold by the ounce, weighed and served in paper bags. Candy corn, lemon balls, Boston Baked Beans, coconut squares, gum drops, peppermints, marshmallow candy and other hard candies were available for 5 and 10 cents per bag. Gum was three packages for 5 cents.
Once past the candy cases, the smell of oil identified the bicycles, tricycles and other toys where toy trucks and cars were 10 or 15 cents and Big Bill cap pistols were 15 cents. Caps were two boxes for a nickel.
The Duke and Ayres stores were in their heyday before air conditioning was standard in stores. In fair weather, entrances and back doors were open and ceiling fans moved the aroma out onto the sidewalks, inviting shoppers into the store.
Once past the candy cases, the smell of the fabric center or the perfume fragrances easily identified the departments. One of the fragrances this writer remembers was called “Blue Waltz.”
When walking down the sidewalk, it was easy to identify a dime store, a clothing store, a bakery or hardware store like Vivroux by the smells coming through the doors. Across Austin Street came the smells of the White House Meat Market owned by the Patek family where brisket and ribs were served on a piece of butcher paper. Picnic tables were located in the back where they had knives chained to the tables.
The salaries for most employees at Duke and Ayres into the 1950s was about 35 cents per hour. This writer’s mother was assistant manager for Duke and Ayres for 23 years. While in school, I decided I wanted to work and make some money so I went to work as a butcher at age 13 at Donsbach Grocery, now a bank parking lot across from the Aumont Hotel.
A short time later, the driver of the grocery delivery truck got sick and had to quit working. The boss, Wish Donsbach, asked if I could drive a truck, to which I said, “of course.” I began driving the delivery truck for about six hours per day for 35 cents per hour.
I had to deliver to the jail house where the police were always around. When I would deliver the groceries, a rookie policeman named Leroy Schneider would help me unload the groceries. He would always warn me to be careful and not have a wreck because they would have to give me a ticket because I was not old enough to have a driver’s license. I always told them I am very careful.
A close lifetime friend, Mark Williams, delivered prescriptions on a bicycle for William’s Pharmacy for 7 cents per hour, with longevity pay raises. At that time, King Street was the eastern most street with open fields east of that. Mark’s 7 cents doesn’t sound like much today, but at that time in the 1950s, movie tickets at the Palace and Texas Theaters were only 9 cents, so in two hours Mark had earned enough for a movie and candy.
Mark later married Linda (Bettersworth), whose mother owned the flower shop on North Austin Street, and she also drove and delivered flowers. She was too young to get a driver’s license. She said she kept to the back streets.
The increasing number of discount stores in the 1960s was the beginning of the end for the five and dime stores, along with the drive-in movies. Gibson’s Discount Store was built on east Court Street near the present-day hospital, and with its ample parking drew much of the downtown business. My mother moved to Gibson’s as a buyer for the chain and worked there for 22 years.
Shopping malls and restaurants soon began to take the Saturday shopping from the town centers and many were forced to eventually close their doors.
In the 1970s, the Duke and Ayres chain was bought out by Ben Franklin stores, also a five and dime store chain. Ben Franklin expanded its chain to 2,500 stores but by 2015 the number had dropped to 125. Walmart and Target chains have driven the five and dime stores like Duke and Ayres, Gibson’s and Woolworth out of business.
Along the history of the dime stores, the founder of Walmart, Sam Walton, started in the retail business by operating a Ben Franklin store that had originally been a Duke and Ayres five and dime store.
The passing of the dime stores era left nostalgic memories for the senior citizens of today and the experience of the Saturday shopping can only be handed down to the generation of baby boomers or the new millennials through stories. Today, stores have digital data on customers and in the near future will have digital facial recognition, retina scans that report the last time you shopped there, what you bought, how much you spent and how long you were in the store. The advent of home delivery of just about anything and computer on-line shopping is also having a great impact on the brick and mortar stores of today. Today’s shopping is nothing like the crowded sidewalks, open doors and candy cases of the 5 and 10 cent stores of long ago.