The F.W. Woolworth five-and-dime store was a fixture in downtown Lexington from 1901 to 1990, when the store closed due to depressing downtown retail conditions. The building has since been demolished.

The three-story, 38,000 sq. ft. art-deco inspired F. W. Woolworth store at 106 West Main Street in Lexington, Kentucky was opened on September 9, 1948,2 it’s central presence in the city almost a synonym for “downtown.”1 2 Over 25,000 shopped the landmark location on opening day, however, Woolworth’s presence dated back three decades earlier to 1901, when F. W. Woolworth opened its first Lexington store.10 On July 10,1916, the company replaced a 46-year-old locally-owned store of “men’s furnishings” called Loevenhart and Son at 268 West Main Street.2

For over fifty years, the Woolworth’s sold a large variety of clothing, odds-and-ends, carbonated ice-cream sodas, old-fashioned hot cashews and sandwiches.2 The lunch counter was the scene of sit-ins when racial segregation prevented African-Americans from eating inside the store.3

In 1982, the Webb Cos. of Lexington proposed that the Woolworth block and the block west now occupied by the Lexington Financial Center be redeveloped into a downtown mall called the Lexington Galleria.19 The deal fell through because there were too many small parcels and too many property owners — 32 in 1989.

The Factory

On November 3, 1989, Woolworth announced that the flagship location in downtown Lexington would close by January.18 19 20 At the time of the announcement, the store employed ten. The company signed a 40-year lease upon opening in 1948, which was credited with keeping the sore open during the 1960s and 1970s when other retailers either left downtown or closed. Lease payments were low enough that Woolworth survived even as downtown retailing declined.20

Woolworth’s closed on January 13, 1990, however, shortly before the closure, the Woolworth Corporation renovated the store and extended its lease for ten years.1 Tim Haymaker, whose company is handling the property, considered demolition as early as 1991.17 Six years later, on July 17, 1997, the Woolworth Corporation announced that it would close its 400 remaining stores in the United States.10

On January 31, 2000, Woolworth’s lease expired and demolition of the building was considered.13 However, a one-year ban on demolition was in effect near the new courthouse complex being constructed at Main and Limestone streets while design guidelines were created. In February 2000, the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation placed the Woolworth Building on a list of 11 endangered structures.10

The property was later purchased by over 30 owners, although Joe Rosenberg of Lexington began buying out the other investors in 2000. Rosenberg later announced a rather ambitious plan to restore the department store into The Factory, space that would be devoted to high-tech startups, although the recession of 2001 all but silenced the development.3

On March 28, 2001, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority approved a $500,000 grant for a $3.2 million renovation of the building, adding $1 million already committed by the city and private donors.10 12 On November 27, city officials and owners Joe Rosenberg and family agreed on a plan to revive the building. One month later, on December 13, the Urban County Council voted to accept a 25-year, $275,625 annual lease with the Rosenberg’s. The city would have paid a $5,000 monthly fee to the Corporation.9 It would have been leased to the city, who would sublease the property to the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation who would collect rent from the tenants. Rosenberg also negotiated with those needing office and with retailers such as Office Depot, who was at one point close to striking a deal, but which fell through over the proposed rent.4

Other citizens proposed an art museum, given its proximity to the Central Library, courthouses and its open floor plan.11

The original costs to renovate the property was $3.1 million, although it escalated to $5 million after leaky roofs and related deterioration were needing repair, discoveries made in early summer 2002.4 No investor, including the city, the commonwealth, or private partner, was willing to put up for an additional $1.8 million for the building. The Rosenberg family had committed $1.9 million to the project, combined with $500,000 from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority, $250,000 from the city and a low-interest loan of $510,000 from the Kentucky League of Cities. But even with that, the proposed incubator’s income of $250,000 a year would mean negative cash flow for at least ten years.7

In the summer of 2002, structural issues were discovered in the building, relating to a botched roof renovation project in 1990.8 Water had damaged the roof and key columns and beams were rusted. On June 27, in light of the recent issues with the building, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority rescinded its support for restoration.8 10

On September 6, the building was added to the National Trust of Historic Places in home of additional funding.7

Demolition

Several weeks later, on September 25, Rosenberg was granted a demolition permit after the city cited the property for numerous code violations earlier in the summer; the Downtown Design Review Board approved of the permit in a 3-1 vote. in a matter of days.4 6 7 Demolition, however, was blocked for months by the Blue Grass Trust who had appealed to the Urban County Planning Commission. Preservationists called the vote “too hasty,” in comparison to other historic buildings that were involved in lengthier discussions.

“We would like the time to explore possibilities which are as yet undiscussed. This would set a dangerous precedent. We’re dealing with demolition by neglect, either accidental or otherwise.”

-Paul Holbrook of the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation

Both sides later agreed to postpone any further action until a May 8, 2003 panning commission meeting.5

On August 9, 2004, Rosenberg announced that he would demolish the building after trying for years to work out an economic plan to save it.2 Historic preservationists praised Rosenberg’s efforts, who had spent more than $100,000 during the prior two years and $850,000 since 2000 to shore up the then-58-year-old building, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.4

“We have worked over the years with the owners of many buildings and not one has gone to the lengths Joe Rosenberg has.”

-Mike Meuser, Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation

It was demolished in early October 2004 and has since become a parking lot.1 It’s demolition joined the former once-adjoining Graves-Cox clothing store that was demolished in 1996, after sitting vacant for 14 years.8

Woolworth at Eastland

The F.W. Woolworth store at the Eastland Shopping Center on Winchester Road closed in 1997.14 At the time, there were three Woolworth stores remaining in Kentucky, two in Louisville and one in Lexington with a combined 47 employees, 12 in Lexington.

Earlier, the company said that 100 of the more than 400 Woolworth stores would reopen as Champs, Foot Locker or other sport apparel businesses owned by Woolworth Corp. but had not decided which stores to reopen.14 The downsizing trend was first apparent on January 8, 1992, when Woolworth announced the closure, sell or overhaul of 900 unprofitable stores in the United States, affecting 10% of its more than 9,300 specialty and general merchandise stores.16 On October 13, 1993, Woolworth announced that it would cut 13,000 jobs and close or redesign nearly 1,000 stores, ending the old dime-store tradition in many towns and cities across the United States.15 That reorganization would accelerate the transition from a variety-store chain into an urban-centered specialty retailer, and was the second time in as many years that Woolworth had batch closed stores.

Sources

  1. “Former Woolworth’s building coming down.” Herald-Leader 28 Sept. 2004. 25 Dec. 2007: B3.
  2. Edwards, Don. “Odee to a Five & Dime: Awaiting razing, Woolworth’s is remembered.” Herald-Leader 25 Aug. 2004. 25 Dec. 2007: D1.
  3. “A little more time: Don’t give up on Woolworth building yet.” Herald-Leader 18 Aug. 2004. 25 Dec. 2007: A10.
  4. Jordan, Jim. “Woolworth building runs out of options, will be torn down.” Herald-Leader 10 Aug. 2004. 25 Dec. 2007: A1.
  5. “Woolworth building’s fate still open to discussion.” Herald-Leader 14 Feb. 2003. 25 Dec. 2007: B3.
  6. Ku, Michelle. “Woolworth demolition delayed: Appeal puts off action at least a month.” Herald-Leader 28 Sept. 2002. 25 Dec. 2007: C1.
  7. Stamper, John. “Woolworth building to fall: Board OKS demolition application.” Herald-Leader 26 Sept. 2002. 25 Dec. 2007: B1.
  8. Ku, Michelle. “Owner set to raze Woolworth: Rosenberg plans parking lot near farmers market.” Herald-Leader 21 Sept. 2002. 25 Dec. 2007: C1.
  9. Stamper, John. “Woolworth plan fading fast: remodel estimate up to $5 million.” Herald-Leader 12 July 2002. 25 Dec. 2007: C1.
  10. Brim, Risa. “State finance authority takes action: KEDFA cites delays caused by disrepair.” Herald-Leader 28 June 2002. 25 Dec. 2007: C1.
  11. Wainscott, Clay. “Forget courthouse: Woolworth site ideal for art.” Herald-Leader 14 Jan. 2002. 25 Dec. 2007: A6.
  12. Stamper, John. “Woolworth building renovation could begin soon.” Herald-Leader 29 March 2001. 25 Dec. 2007: A1.
  13. George, Jefferson. “Raze or reuse offices, parking lot among options for Woolworth.” Herald-Leader 5 Feb. 2000. 25 Dec. 2007: A1.
  14. Jordan, Jim. “Longtime customers deal with loss.” Herald-Leader 18 July 1997. 25 Dec. 2007: C11.
  15. “Woolworth to cut stores, 13,000 jobs, tradition.” Herald-Leader 14 Oct. 1993. 25 Dec. 2007: C7.
  16. “Woolworth move to affect 900 U.S. stores.” Herald-Leader 9 Jan. 1992. 25 Dec. 2007: B4.
  17. Burdette, Dick. “Woolworth site may become parking lot.” Herald-Leader 11 Aug. 1991. 25 Dec. 2007: B1.
  18. Jordan, Jim. “Woolworth closing set for Jan. 13.” Herald-Leader 4 Jan. 1990. 25 Dec. 2007: B5.
  19. Jordan, Jim. “Future of Woolworth site unclear.” Herald-Leader 7 Nov. 1989. 25 Dec. 2007: B5.
  20. Jordan, Jim and Jacqueline Duke. “Downtown Woolworth’s to close doors.” Herald-Leader 4 Nov. 1989. 25 Dec. 2007: A1.