HARRISBURG, Pa. -- At the Dollar Zone store, Donald Barlup Sr. loaded up on hooks, shower curtain rings and steel wire as he bemoaned the loss of what once would have been called a five-and-dime.
"It's a shame that they're putting all these little places out of business with these big stores," said Barlup, 69, of Harrisburg. "There are a lot of big stores I won't even go into."
Barlup was mourning the passing of McCrory Corp., one of the last of the original variety-store chains. The company has gone bankrupt -- starved of cash in a retail world dominated by giant chains like Wal-Mart and Target.
About a half-dozen stores in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia remain of the chain that once had 1,300 stores at its peak, said Paul Weiner, chief financial officer for McCrory Corp. The final stores are expected to close within the next two weeks, he said.
The company operated McCrory stores along with other retailers like Dollar Zone, G.C. Murphy, J.J. Newberry, and T.G.&Y.
The privately held company, based near York, Pa., since 1963, outlasted rival Woolworth's and other competitors. But it got rid of more than 600 stores while under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from 1992 through 1997. The latest version of the company formed in 1997 and went into bankruptcy last year, Weiner said.
"They had been an extremely significant player," said analyst Burt Flickinger III, managing director of Reach Marketing in Westport, Conn. "Tragically, it was another example of Wall Street not understanding Main Street."
John McCrorey of Scottdale founded the chain in western Pennsylvania in 1882, three years after F.W. Woolworth opened his first successful store in Lancaster, in the eastern part of the state.
The dime store leaders stuck to the same merchandising and marketing formula. Shoppers could find a host of inexpensive items, like candy, needle and thread, scissors, Christmas tree ornaments and small clothing items. The stores featured lunch counters, which became popular meeting places.
Unlike the large discount chains of today, most five-and-dimes did not advertise, relying on their location in areas heavily traveled by pedestrians to generate business.
In 1929, McCrory was the nation's fifth-largest dime-store chain, with about 240 stores in the eastern and southern United States and gross sales of $44 million, said Alan Raucher, a professor of history at Wayne State University in Michigan who studies this sector.
McCrorey sold a controlling interest in the company after his only likely successor died in a hunting accident. The firm declared bankruptcy in January 1933, but it found new life in the 1940s, taking over chains like G.C. Murphy that had been formed by former McCrory workers, Raucher said.
The company struggled again in recent years, as suburbanization upset its Main Street-based formula for success.
"When I first heard they were going out of business, I was surprised because I didn't even know they were still in existence," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, based in Montclair, N.J. "I thought they went out of business a long time ago."
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