Willoughby: Loving the five and dime | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Loving the five and dime

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies

Reconditioned Woolworth’s soda fountain in Asheville, North Carolina.

You may be familiar with Nanci Griffith's song "Love at The Five and Dime." When she introduces the tune, Griffith says Woolworths are the same everywhere, they smell like "popcorn and chewing gum rubbed around on the bottom of a leather-soled shoe." She also describes her childhood desire to go inside and "stock up on unnecessary plastic objects." Although Aspen did not have a Woolworths, the song recalls a memory of long ago.

Aspen offered few shopping options, especially for a child of the late 1950s. The mountain fueled our spiritual yearnings, but no chain store inflamed our material desires. Aspen's small population did not meet the profitability threshold for chain-store development. And only three businesses posted a recognizable logo: Chevron, Texaco and Sinclair. Although a few stores catered to tourists, even those stores did not pique the interest of a child eager to spend a piggybank full of coins.

We browsed Aspen Supply, at Fendi's current location on Mill Street. Tom Sardy, the proprietor and namesake of Sardy Field, subsidized Aspen Supply on the backs of two other businesses — his lumberyard and the mortuary in his home on Main Street.

People referred to the store as "Sardy's." If you needed something, Sardy would supply it. If he didn't find the item in stock, he would order it from his vast library of catalogues. You could buy a rake or a wheelbarrow, a toaster or the electrical outlet box to wire your kitchen so you could operate a toaster. But Sardy did not sell anything a child would want, unless the child wanted to buy a tool as a gift for his father.

A child could order unnecessary plastic objects from Montgomery Ward and receive them from the mail order center in Denver faster than a change-of-mind. Some kids waited until their parents would take them to Glenwood Springs. There they lobbied for precious minutes at a paradise unknown to Aspen: Woolworths.

Few of us had much money, but the "five and dime" delivered what the name implied. We could relish a shopping experience in exchange for a few coins. Most of Aspen did not have television until very late in the 1950s, so commercials from the Mickey Mouse show had not yet honed our desires for mass-marketed goods. We perceived each object as a first-time discovery.

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Word of mouth fueled fads that spread like wildfire. Mr. Potato Head populated every Aspen closet. Although kids couldn't afford the kits on their own, adults bought them as birthday presents for other families. Completely irresistible, hula-hoops circulated in a rainbow of plastic colors. We eschewed boring, cold, colorless metal.

The fad that I remember best lived and breathed at Woolworths in Glenwood. Little green turtles flashed tiny black eyes and waggled teeny pointed tails. Of course plastic played a part in the equation. Proper turtle care required a turtle home, a plastic water bowl with an island in the middle, topped with a removable palm tree.

Turtle mortality rate ran high, perhaps from too much handling or improper care. Aspen's altitude certainly challenged small reptiles from Louisiana. The turtle homes eventually took on a second life as a container for tadpoles and other local fauna, or collections of coins for the next trip to Glenwood.

We would have loved for Woolworths to come to Aspen, but the store's distance taught us to practice patience, save our money and limit our stash of plastic.

Tim Willoughby's family story parallels Aspen's. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.

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