Before there was Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Walmart, Marshall’s, and discount stores, there was the five-and-dime. Named for their simple approach to pricing (read: everything a nickel or a dime, though prices were raised over time due to inflation), these shops ruled Main Streets across America. The most well-known of the five-and-dimes was Woolworth’s, but other smaller regional shops served their communities with an unusually diverse selection of products that pale in comparison to today’s closest counterpart, the dollar store.
“While both today’s dollar stores and a Woolworths’-type store offer a variety of merchandise at affordable prices, to me that is where the similarities end,” says Beth “Mod Betty” Lennon of the vintage travel blog Retro Roadmap. “The 5&10s of the past could be showplaces with gleaming hardwood floors and glass display cases. They could be small town shops or in cities many floors with different departments, from pets to clothes, candy to homegoods and luncheonettes or soda fountains to grab a quick bite without ever leaving the store.”
Unfortunately, a shift in American shopping habits that favored brands over big bargains contributed to the demise of the five-and-dime. The good news? A handful of such stores remain, including Sine’s in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, where Lennon frequently holds meet-ups for fellow lovers of all things historic. I caught up with Lennon to learn more about what makes Sine’s such an interesting place to shop.
Is Sine’s one of the last five-and-dimes? How old is it?
Sine’s is one of the last five-and-dime stores operating in the US. They have been open since 1912, and are still owned and operated by the same family that opened it over 100 years ago.
Tell us why Sine’s is so special, beyond its rarity as one of the last five-and-dimes.
To me, Sine’s is special for a number of reasons. One is that the business is still owned by, and run by the Harr family. Bill Harr Senior can be found putting up displays or holding court at the end of the lunch counter, next to the giant rootbeer barrel, while his wife Marlene will ring up your order at the freestanding cashstand. If you want a bite to eat, their son Bill Jr or their daughter Linda will cook it up for you. Their children are also often helping out around the store. You really get a sense of community there, as the family knows so many of the regulars who come in to shop or to have their breakfast or lunch at their lunch counter.
The lunch counter is also something that I think makes Sine’s so special, as it really does bring you back in time to be sitting on a swivel stool waiting for your grilled cheese and ice cream soda. They serve breakfast, lunch and ice cream treats, with home-made specials daily.
Oh, and I just love that you can buy so many random useful things that you can’t easily find anywhere else. From cotton undershirts to wooden dowels, C9 Christmas lights, cookie cutters, old fashioned candies, it’s always fun to go there for a bite to eat and shop.
What motivated you to start doing meet-ups at Sine’s? How long have you been doing these?
Ever since I started Retro Roadmap one of the things I’ve tried to do is not only tell people about the “Cool Vintage Places” that still exist, but also encourage folks to actually go out and support them. It’s not going to help the business survive if you just sit back and “Like” it on Facebook!
And Sine’s is always that go-to place that has so many of the elements of what to me makes a Retro Roadmap worthy location. They are in a downtown setting, and still have that authentic vintage look and feel. When you walk through the doors you do feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
I try to do the best I can to support them myself, but there is power in numbers, so the more people I can encourage to go to Sines and other vintage places, the more it helps out the bottom line. And meeting folks who share the same interests is a lot of fun too!
While I’ve gotten other gatherings of folks together to go to the Drive-In Movies or tour the Wanamaker Organ, at this time of year a Sine’s meetup seemed a perfect way to make people realize that where they spend their holiday dollars can make a difference. So if I can funnel some of that into a place like Sines, a place that I would want to see survive for another 100 years, then I’m glad to rattle the pots pans to get folks together!
All photos are courtesy of RetroRoadmap.com