Woolworth's Menu circa 1957
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Thanks for sending along this one, Uncle Charlie!
Although this Woolworth's Menu is from 1957, I can remember these very same prices in the Woolworth's of my 'yewt' on Long Island circa the early to mid '60's. A favorite haunt of my early-teen friends and myself, we were devotees of Woolie's cuisine. Our favorites were the grilled cheese sandwiches or hotdogs served with ripple potato chips, a 'bread and butter pickle chip' or two and a coke, or maybe an order of really greasy french fries.
Not all of our favorite items were listed on the menu above. In the Woolworth's in my neighborhood, daily prices were written on white fluted paper plates and simply scotch-taped over the grill. One thing for sure-if you had a dollar, you could dine like royalty at the Woolworth lunch counter back in those days.
Sometimes, we didn't have enough money, my friends and I, to eat actual food. And sometimes we just wanted something sweet. So as an alternate treat, we'd opt for the 39 cent (as listed above) 'Banana Split'.
These 'splits' were delicious and generous; an entire banana, split lengthwise, was used in each! These halves were topped with three scoops of ice cream, three different toppings, REAL whipped cream, peanuts and a cherry. Even at full price, they were a deal. But the cream-on-the-top, so to speak, of these frozen delights came to our local Woolie's Lunch Counter when someone came up with the positively brilliant idea of 'Banana Split Balloons'.
Suspended overhead above the counter line on kite-string were ten-inch long balloons tied onto thin wooden sticks. Each one contained an exciting surprise, for rolled up inside each balloon was a thin strip of paper with a number somewhere below 39 on it. This indicated the price of your Banana Split and oh what fun it was picking out what we hoped would be a 'lucky balloon'.
In those days of innocence, I remember my friends and I garnering 'Banana Split bills like, 23cents, 28 cents, and 30 cents. I suppose there were a few 'freebies' in those balloons, though none of us ever saw one. Still, the lowest price any of us managed to pick was chosen by me, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
I also still remember the wonderful, 'grandmotherly', Woolworth's ladies who served us. We always had the feeling that they liked us, though we had no idea why. We would try to leave a tip, but it wouldn't be much...a few pennies or a nickle or dime, at most. Our parents may have been poor, but they taught us to be generous. Indeed, during later times in my life on my own when I was alternately poor and even very poor, I learned a truth from my folks: If you are ever penniless, ask a poor person for money and not a rich person. The poor one will give you his or her last dollar, will not miss it and will understand your situation. The rich person...well, you get the idea...but I digress.
So back to our Woolworth LunchLadies. Naturally, we had our favorite, the one who treated us extra nice. We didn't know why at the time, but it seemed to us that our 'Woolworth Grandmother' enjoyed our visits as much as we did. And she never seemed to care what we ordered, how long we lingered or if she'd get a tip from us. Whatever we did was...okay.
We knew that as long as one of us were actually 'buying' even a little food item, we would all garner a welcome reprieve and a free glass of water, from our not-so-always peaceful home lives. That lunch counter became a true refuge at times for the price of fries, where we could feel 'safe and cared for', if only for a few minutes.
Any visit to Woolworth's was an escape and a reprieve, in fact. We girls would check out the fish and the hamsters. We'd try out' and sometimes buy, for 25cents, a 'Tangee' Lipstick and smell the bottled-in-blue 'Evening in Paris' perfume. We'd look at the junior bras and hair combs, clips and rollers, always ending up with a visit to the lunch counter. We knew...that if luck was on our side...we might, just might manage to enjoy a delectable treat at a very low price and enjoy it even more when made and served by our favorite 'Woolworth's Grandma' over there!
Shopping and window shopping was fun at Woolies, but the most exciting times back then were the ones we shared with our 'Woolworth Lady Grandma'. We'd try to go at 'off-hours' or wait until she wasn't too busy with others. Then we'd take our seats and she'd look at us and smile and say 'Hello' and then ask us in succession to 'choose one'.
After we'd dutifully pointed upward, she'd take down our balloon, untie it and deflate it. As we held our collective breaths, our 'Woolworth Grandma' would expertly retrieve the rolled-up piece of paper inside the balloon, and dramatically unroll it. With a kind of 'miniaturized Christmas morning expectation', we'd practically bounce off our creaky, spinable soda fountain stool, waiting expectantly for our number to be announced. Finally, with a fair glint in her eye and not a little bit of fanfare, our silver-haired Woolworth Lady's face would break into a broad smile, announcing "Welllllll....Let's SEE here.... SEVENTEEN CENTS!...Now LOOK at THAT!"
WOW! That was MINE! I GOT THAT ONE...THE LOWEST! Then with a wink and a nod, the progenitor of our joy would turn around and get to work making each of us the best and biggest official Woolworth's Banana Split she could 'fit' into an official Woolworth's Banana Split dish. We didn't know why at the time, but it always seemed that those Balloon Banana Splits were the biggest and baddest ever made in all the world.
Even the 'loser' among us...the one of us who had to pay the dreaded 'almost full price' for their Banana Split...made out okay. Our 'Woolworth Grandma' displayed her own special brand of 'fairness' with her discretionary use of the largest banana, the dispensing of extra toppings, nuts, whipped cream and an extra cherry or two for this 'hapless loser' by way of culinary consolation. Yes, there was the fun of 'shopping' and the kick we got out of the balloons at Woolie's, but that wasn't the end of it. These many years later, this story is a testimony to the kindness and thoughtfulness that was shown to us kids and which lives on. Yessiree, this is a kind of love that endures.
We didn't know her name (besides 'Mame') but I do remember the love she had for us. Heaven knows we loved her. It was such a good feeling to know that no matter what ever else happened that day, you'd be sure to have a terrific time eating the biggest and best Banana Split in the world, one made and served by our very own 'Woolworth's Grandma'.
God Bless her and Woolworth Grandmas Everywhere!
With Love in Christ,
Reverend Barbara Sexton
"The Biblical Biochemist-Where Science Meets the Cross"