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HISTORY

The F.W. Woolworth store was one of the oldest stores in downtown Clarksdale, having opened in 1924 at 228 Yazoo Avenue. While Clarksdale has never had a so-called “Main Street,” Yazoo Avenue served as the main street for variety, department and clothing stores. In 1955, the 200 block of Yazoo Avenue was packed with more than a dozen such stores, with the Woolworth building serving as the anchor on the northeast corner.

Yazoo Avenue in the 1950s was the center of Clarksdale's bustling downtown.
Yazoo Avenue in the 1950s was the center of Clarksdale’s bustling downtown.
Employees inside the new, modern Woolworth's building in the mid 1950s.
Employees inside the new, modern Woolworth’s building in the mid 1950s.

On October 25, 1955 — the eve of the new store’s opening at 207 Yazoo — the entire front page of section two of the Clarksdale Press Register was devoted to the new store, citing the “handsome new $200,000 F.W. Woolworth store in the heart of downtown Clarksdale,” as being “one of the most modern in the vast Woolworth chain.” The new building was a classic example of the modern, international style of architecture, which was popular at the time. One of the modern additions to the new store was the 27-stool lunch counter, a signature component of Woolworth stores since the 1940s. The Woolworth lunch counter served as a common meeting place, but Woolworth lunch counters will be long remembered as the site of civil-rights sit-ins in 1960.

In Clarksdale, the wheels of change turned much more slowly. The N.A.A.C.P.’s Coahoma County Youth Council members started “demonstrating” at Walgreen’s and Woolworth’s during the spring of 1960. No “sit-ins” were permitted since, after consulting the N.A.A.C.P. national office, it was 

agreed that the youth didn’t have enough experience, planning or resources to properly conduct a sit-in. A group of youths held a “shopping tour,” and while at Woolworth’s, their appearance drew comments, stares and, eventually, police attention. By late 1963, the Clarksdale Woolworth’s had shut down its lunch counter, rather than integrate.

The Woolworth building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in March, 2009, and the Lofts at the Five & Dime — which are housed in the upper level — opened in 2010.

The Woolworth building represents the heyday of commercial prosperity and development in downtown Clarksdale, serving as a reminder of what downtown Clarksdale once was and is working to become again.

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