Although it is now the site of vacant office spaces, income-adjusted apartments, and a lone optometrist, the Woolworth Building was once a bustling department store.
In 1873, Frank Winfield Woolworth, a Rodman, New York resident and future founder of Woolworth's Store, began an unpaid apprenticeship at Augsbury and Moore in Watertown, NY. (Augsbury and Moore was a dry goods store that once stood on the same location as the current Woolworth Building.) After his apprenticeship ended, Woolworth became a salaried clerk with Augsbury and Moore, earning $10 dollars a week. In 1878, during his time as a clerk, Woolworth came up with the idea for the five-and-dime store.
By 1905, Augsbury and Moore had become a Woolworth syndicate; something similar to a franchise store. After opening Woolworth’s in Utica, New York, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and New York City, FW Woolworth returned to Watertown to take over the Augsbury and Moore location. The Woolworth store officially opened in 1912.
The current Woolworth building replaced the original building on July 15, 1921. But, the corniced six-story structure seen today, was not the design that Woolworth wanted. The original plans were for something much more grand: a 14-story, small-scale replica of the Gothic-style Woolworth Building in New York City. Historians speculate that the original plans were abandoned for a more modest building design when FW Woolworth’s health began to fail in 1916. The businessman died on April 8, 1919 before construction was completed.
Despite the passing of its founder, the Watertown Woolworth store remained an important location to the Woolworth Corporation. Its annual meetings took place at the building until 1966. But Woolworth’s prosperity was drawing to a close. In an effort to modernize, Woolworth’s store moved to Arsenal Street in 1971. The business struggled throughout its tenure on Arsenal street and the store closed its doors for good in 1997. The building it once occupied is the current Concentrix call center.
Although Woolworth’s Store has been closed for over twenty years, the building has survived. The six-story structure received 17 million dollars in renovations in 2015. The current owners hope the revitalized building will attract new business owners to Public Square.