The forecast predicted good winds, so I decided I’d take my kites out to Legacy Park. Since the winds were supposed to peak a bit after noon I packed a lunch, then sent out a general Facebook invitation for anyone that wanted to join me. I wasn’t sure who might decide to spend lunch with kites, so I knew I’d need to make sure all of my gear was in good order. That meant string, spars, and perhaps a couple more inexpensive kites for kids the might come along. In the past I’ve had success finding these things at Wilson’s 5 cents and $1, so that’s where I headed. Every time I visit, I’m unprepared for the flood of memories that wash over me when I step through the door.
I headed over to the Pleasantburg Shopping Center, home of the original Wilson’s. As soon as I stepped through the door, I was overwhelmed with the claustrophobia-inducing array of goods. When I asked about kites a helpful clerk pointed me in the direction of the toys. Truth be told, I would have headed in that direction anyway. To me, dime stores mean toys.
A bit of history…
I remember two dime stores in Laurens when I was growing up. Ben Franklin’s 5 and 10 was one of them, but I don’t remember the other. Occasional birthday presents and surprise always came from one of these two dime stores. I have a distinct memory of two of my aunts letting me pick out a small toy on various occasions. My sister Glynda said that at age 14 she worked at Ben Franklin’s, and remembered filling orders of candy from the bins. She also remembered the distinctive smell of the cigar storage upstairs.
The dime stores were eventually replaced with the larger discount stores – Edwards, Roses, Sky City, and K-Mart. Then, the king of all, WalMart, put them all out of business. There are no more dime stores in Laurens and the Ben Franklin where Glynda worked is long gone.
Family Dollar and Dollar General popped up everywhere as the next generation of low-cost variety stores, with several other brands like Dollar Tree, etc., etc., but none of these had the look and feel of the old dime store. Stores like Mast General Store capitalized on the nostalgia for old dime stores, but the originals had become quite rare.
…and Wilson’s is one of those originals.
As a teacher I was a frequent Wilson’s visitor. They had hats and props for all the concerts and school programs we put on, as well as tons of school supplies. When I taught music at Gray Court-Owings we would visit Wilson’s in Simpsonville and Wilson’s at Pleasantburg. When I was at Brushy Creek it was Wilson’s in Taylors.
Now for the present (sort of)…
I found the toy section, and it was the madhouse jumble I remembered.
There were packages of just about any type of action figure imaginable, from army men to cowboys and Indians (now re-titled to the more politically correct “Western Adventure”), and even specialized figures such as Knights Templar and Vikings. There were dinosaurs, rats, and all sorts of things.
I remembered getting cap guns at the dime store. These metal guns fired roll caps, and came with a holster set. We had tons of fun with those. I noticed that Wilson’s still had guns and holsters, but these didn’t fire caps. Alas.
There was also a jumble of slightly organized toys of other varieties. These were the small, inexpensive types that would entertain a kid for an afternoon. I had to resist the urge to purchase one of each – the price and nostalgia just draw you in. They even had tops! The old-style tops that you pull a string to launch.
There were also balsa wood airplanes of all types, including gliders and rubber-band driven propeller models.
I was focused just on the toys, but there were plenty of other things to delight and amaze. There were aisle with tools and household items, and probably the majority of the store is filled with these items. They are in just the same sort of jumble as everything else.
I found the kite section. They didn’t have quite the selection I remember. I bought a couple of rolls of string and some tiny kites should nieces and nephews show up.
As I was making my purchases a woman came in and asked one of the clerks if he had her order ready. From their conversation I gathered that she was a school principal that had ordered items for her teachers, or for some special event at the school. More memories came back.
I asked the cashier how long Wilson’s had been around, and she said that they had been in this location for 62 years. Amazing. The building doesn’t look that old, but that would put it in 1954, and Pleasantburg Shopping Center was one of the first in town.
Later in the day I posted a couple of these photos to a Greenville-related Facebook page. They were a hit, and many of the members shared their memories. Several commented that they had been privileged to visit the basement, which was even larger and more jumbled that the publicly accessible shop above. Seems I’m not alone in my dime store nostalgia.
Fast forward a couple of weeks…
I wasn’t done with Wilson’s. The pre-kite visit and subsequent Facebook comments just made me want more. I decided to visit all of the Wilson’s in the area – a quest. I started with the one in Taylors. The shopping center and store are much newer than the Pleasantburg location, but it has the same array of goods, pretty much in the same layout. The newer ceiling tiles make it just a bit brighter, and there isn’t as much stuff hanging from overhead.
I drove down to Simpsonville and found a similar store. This one, though, seemed a bit sadder for some reason. Perhaps it was because the shopping center was dying out and many of the original occupants were being replaced with third-tier stores, which includes competing dollar stores.
They had a section of toys specifically for nostalgia, but otherwise things were pretty much the same as the other two stores.
Since it was in route to the last of the four stores, I popped back by the Pleasantburg store to confirm the presents of the mythical basement. I could only see the exterior, of course.
Finally I made it to the Berea Location in an old shopping center off off Sulpher Springs Road. This was the saddest of all. Wilson’s was no longer there, but had sold out to the Discount Dollar Mart. I still had to go inside.
The clerk inside told me that the change had taken place about a year ago. As far as I could tell, though, the contents were pretty much the same. However, there were more food items, and things seemed to be of a lower quality than Wilson’s. In fairness to the store, though, that could have just been my disappointment that this was no longer Wilson’s.
I certainly hope the other Wilson’s in the area don’t go the way of the Berea location. That would, indeed, be sad. The chaotic array of…just about everything, the helpful staff, and the amazing stuff you just can’t find anywhere else seem like such an antidote to the Walmarts of the world. I hope they stick around for many more years to come.