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From 1880 to Today: Woolworth & Knox, Main near Clinton

Woolworth on Main Street near Clinton Street, shortly before it was to close in 1997.

Long before the name Woolworth was sentimentally remembered by millions of Americans and the name Knox was one Buffalonians recognize from the worlds of art, sports, and banking, there was Woolworth & Knox in Buffalo.

A small blurb in the Oct. 13, 1888, Buffalo Courier describes the pivotal moment in Buffalo history, mentioning a 5 and 10 cent store opening.

“The Woolworth Syndicate of 5 and 10 cent stores will open a store to-day. They have 15 stores now running with headquarters in New York. No article in the store is sold for more than ten cents. Woolworth & Knox, 409 Main Street, in the Mooney Building.”

Through several fires and name changes, Woolworth was open on just about the same spot on Main Street near Clinton Street for the next 110 years.

Initially, Woolworth sold out to Knox on stores they co-owned, and the Main Street Buffalo store became the headquarters for the chain of S.H. Knox 5&10 stores spread around the northeast and Canada.

In 1898, there were 16 S.H. Knox stores. A Buffalo Courier reporter takes us inside the Buffalo flagship store.

“It is almost impossible to give an idea of all the goods handles by a five-and-ten-cent store, so great is the variety and in spite of the fact that the prices are confined to a dime almost anything in the line of household goods of the smaller kind and general kitchen utensils can be secured there.  For instance, a coal hod, cooking pans, lamps, etc. are all handled in addition to the regular lines of bric-a-brac.

“The firm takes especial pride in its confectionery department, which is said to be the best in the city.”

A lunch counter inside the Woolworth store on Broadway near Fillmore Avenue in 1937.

In 1911, Knox merged his 111 stores back into the F.W. Woolworth fold, helping to create the vast empire of stores which stretched across North America for the rest of the 20th Century.

The $12 million Knox received in the transaction would equal more than $300 million in 2019 dollars. Knox purchased a large share in Marine Trust Bank, and served as chairman of the bank.

His son, Seymour Knox II, was also eventually chairman of the same bank, by then renamed Marine Midland. The younger Knox was also an avid art collector, and in 1962 oversaw an addition to the Albright Art Gallery. He also donated nearly 200 pieces of art to the new space, which was renamed the Albright-Knox Art Center in his honor.

Buffalo's Woolworth locations in 1950.

The legacy of the Woolworth & Knox 5&10 also extends to the world of sports, with the elder Knox’s grandchildren Seymour III and Northrup founding the National Hockey League Buffalo Sabres in 1970.

F.W. Woolworth & Co. continued its presence in Buffalo as well, with stores in most Buffalo neighborhoods though the 1960s, when many of those neighborhood stores moved to suburban shopping plazas.

In 1998, Woolworth filed for bankruptcy and all remaining stores closed — including the store that was still open in pretty much the same spot where F.W. Woolworth and S.H. Knox opened a shop together 110 years earlier.

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