Working at Woolworth's Five and Dime
by Richard Diem
Once I turned sixteen, my job life moved away from drug stores to the five and ten cent store on Greenpoint Avenue, Woolworth’s, not to be confused with McCrory’s across the street. This was a fun job where, besides getting paid of course, I had many good experiences. I was hired as a stock boy, but was often called on to do much more, even serving as a dish washer when the lunch counter became busy. I’d be called on to help the counter girls who made sodas and served food. One time, when I did a very foolish thing down in the basement, the girls helped take care of me.
At the time, I knew that I was going to enlist in the Marine Corps, and had seen a brochure showing a recruit diving through a hole in the wall. Finding myself alone in the basement, I set up my version of "the Marine challenge" - a metal stock cart with wheels and three shelves - aiming to repeat the dive and prove that I could cut the mustard at Parris Island. Just in case I failed, I made sure no one was there to see me. Then I took off, making a running dive through the space between the shelves. And I almost made it too, but my heels caught the top of the metal cart, and as I fell to the concrete floor, the cart came down on the back of my head. Ouch!
Bloody but awake, I wondered how I’d explain this to the bosses. Thinking fast, I told them that a box had fallen on my head. As I didn’t need stitches, they brought out their first aid kits, and the lunch counter girls fussed with cold rags and tender care for the daring future Marine recruit. I knew I had been very lucky.
This was a fun job for a young teenager, and I did whatever I was asked to do, from scraping gum off the wood floors to simonizing the boss’s car, cleaning
the ladies’ restroom every Saturday morning, and of course, keeping the counters stocked with merchandise from the basement. I especially liked the candy counter. I sampled quite a bit to make sure it was fresh.
One time, someone – not me - left the parakeet cage door open and the birds were free to fly wherever their hearts desired. The boss quickly closed the store and the fun began to catch and return the little birds to their cages. This was not an easy task at all, but finally, with everyone helping, we managed the bird hunt successfully, and the store re-opened. For a Sunnyside sixteen year old, my job at Woolworth’s was a very fun time.
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Richard Diem came to Sunnyside early in life, attended PS 150 and JHS 125. and L.I.C. H.S., after which he entered the Marine Corps. He went on to become the franchised manager of a newspaper home delivery service and later, a Postal Service mail carrier. He is a minister to the homebound through his church and a professional caregiver forced into retirement by Covid-19. He loves writing about his childhood memories.