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Archive for October 2nd, 2021

Dime Store Hood

Posted by Admin on October 2, 2021

You have probably heard the idiom dime store hood used in gangster movies and television episodes, and you know from hearing that idiom that it refers to a low-level gangster. The idiom is made up of two different things that go together but how long have they been together is the question.

A hood is short for hoodlum, and a hoodlum refers to a criminal, particularly a young street criminal who is part of a gang. The word has been used in this context since at least 1868 when the San Francisco Golden Era newspaper of 16 February 1868 reported:

The police have recently been investigating the proceedings of a gang of thieving boys who denominate themselves and are known to the world as the Hoodlum Gang.

In the 1930s, criminals began referring to jail terms of between 5 and 10 years as being dime store sentences, and a dime a pop was the colloquial term for a police officer.

Now dime stores weren’t always cheap places with cheap merchandise. In fact, in Volume 1 of the New York City Guide published in 1939, on page 218 in the section titled, “Manhattan: Middle and Upper East Side” some very nice things were said about two particular dime stores.

This section was part of the “Fifth Avenue Shopping District” segment of the New York City Guide.

Symbolic of the newer trend in the granite-faced home (opened in 1935) of S.H. Kress and Company, at the northwest corner of Thirty-ninth Street, which boldly faces the terra-cotta edifice of its competitor F.W. Woolworth and Company (1939). The simple lines of these buildings, two of the most sumptuous dime stores in America, undoubtedly will influence future fronts along the avenue.

It is apparent that dime stores and five-and-dime stores aren’t quite the same thing at all. In fact, in Volume 38, Issue 2 of the Implement and Tractor Trade Journal the difference was made clear in 1923.

Consider the dime store; it has many a lesson for many merchants. The dime store isn’t as cheap as it sounds. Goods are sold almost invariably at a profit. They are intensively “merchandised.”

But salesmanship is there, just the same. Every item is shown in plain sight and within easy reach. The customer can pick it up and handle it. Psychology tells us that the act of feeling an article gives us a sense of possession. The thing works out that way in the dime store. Everything is done to encourage the customer to sell himself.

The clearest delineation between all the stores is found in the 1945 document “Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Agriculture and Mining: Special Committee on Post-War Economic Policy and Planning: House of Representatives Pursuant to H. Res. 408 and H. Res. 60” where the following exchange is recorded.

MR GEORGE: I had this aspect in mind: The borderlines. The dime store goes up to the 50-cent store, and the 50-cent store goes up to the dollar store, and on up, and actually the lines of all of them overlap extensively. Now those stores that carry the low-end items — there have to be calculated risks at some point. I was worried about the low-end items being so generally affected as to give rise for a general pressure for the release of things that were important to the public.

MR FLANDERS: There is, after all, a point which is not a point, it is not a line, but when you get, say, beyond the dollar store, you are in the department store area, and below the dollar store, you are in this area, and if I were administering prices, which God forbid, God forbid, I would feel, well, that was a little problem; it wasn’t the worst problem I had by any means.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1: Mr. Flanders was a mechanical engineer and draftsman, industrialist, and politician Ralph Edward Flanders (28 September 1880 – 19 February 1970), 6th President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, President (on leave) of Jones & Lamson Machine Company in Springfield (VT), and Chairman of the Research Committee of the Committee for Economic Development.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1.1: He was elected to office as a Senator and served from 1 November 1946 through to 3 January 1959. Prior to that, he served in the Machine-Tool Section of the War Industries Board during WWI, and afterwards, he became the Chairman of the Screw-Thread Committee of the American Standards Association. In 1933, Secretary of Commerce, Daniel Roper — part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration — appointed him to the Business Advisory Council where he rose to the position of Chairman of the Committee on Unemployment.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2: Mr. George was Edwin Black George (31 July 1896 – 14 September 1963) who was a consultant to the committee, and was employed by Dun & Bradstreet as an economist in New York (NY). Beginning in 1941, he was part of the Special Studies for the Chairman of the War Production Board, focusing on the question of controls.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2.1: He was the American Trade Commissioner to Far Eastern Countries from 1922 through to 1926, then moved on to the Chief Marketing Service Division of the Department of Commerce from 1930 through to 1932, and to the Chief Domestic Commerce Division from 1933 – 1934 as he continued to move up the ladder of success. He rose to the position of the Director of Economics for Dun & Bradstreet in the 1950s, and in February 1961, he was named Deputy Director of the Legislative Reference Service in the Library of Congress.

All this information led to researching the origins of the dime store. It all began with Frank Winfield Woolworth who adopted the concept of running a five-cent booth while working for William Harvey Moore (1841 – 1916) at his W.H. Moore store in Watertown (NY). When F.W. Woolworth opened his own store in Lancaster (PA) in 1879, he eliminated wholesalers and set up direct buying arrangements instead which allowed him to price every item at a cost of no more than ten cents (a dime). This allowed his stores to lower prices on housewares and other products which allowed customers to be able to afford to buy merchandise such as sewing supplies, china, stationery, shoes, candy, toys, toiletries, andmore, at a low price.

Sales personnel were also instructed in how to properly wrap packages, what to say when serving a customer, what to say when giving change, and how to present themselves with regards to attire, hairstyles, and, dare we mention it, make-up.

By 1896, a number of well-known names emerged in the dime store business, among them being Woolworth, Kress, Kresge, and McCrory. What this means is that prior to 1896, there could not have been any dime store hoods.

Now, dime stores were very popular through to the mid-20th century, and in the earliest part of the 20th century, they became a staple along the Main Streets of towns and cities where they popped up. General stores and department stores kept their stock behind the counter or in bulk bins, but dime stores displayed everything on tables and racks so customers could get close to the items for sale.

What we know is that after the Depression era, inflation caused prices to increase beyond a dime, and because of this, most became dollar stores in order to stay afloat. That meant that the dime stores that stayed dime stores had to find a way to make things work, and that usually led to offering cheaper quality items than dollar stores offered.

This narrows the window of opportunity for the idiom to somewhere between 1896 and 1939. Upon closer inspection, a dime store referring to a retail outlet selling eveyrthing for 10 cents was well-estalished by 1928.

The fact that the word hoodlum — meaning a gangster — was shortened to hood at the start of the 1930s means only one thing: Dime store hoods should be something that began in the early 1930s.

In the 1937 book by American circus performer, publicist, journalist, and writer Courtney Ryley Cooper (31 October 1886 – 29 September 1940), “Here’s To Crime” the following passage is found on page 112.

Hoover had called him a hoodlum.
“I’m no hood!” he snapped, his cruel mouth tightening. “And I don’t like to be called a hood. I’m a thief.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re a hoodlum,” answered the practical John Edgar Hoover.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3: Courtney Ryley Cooper wrote his first bok “Under the Big Top” in 1923 and later on, with the cooperation of William “Buffalo Bill” F. Cody’s widow, he wrote the biography titled, “Memories of Buffalo Bill.” He also wrote a biography of Annie Oakley, and during the 1930s, he worked with J. Edgar Hoover to write numerous articles detailing the crime fighting activities of the FBI.

The Abridged Style Manual of 1935 published by the United States Government Printing Office included hood as an alternative thief, so we know that by 1935 the word hood was known and recognized by at least one government department. Two years earlier, The Police Yearbook published by the International Association of Chiefs of Police spoke of the lowest order of thugs as being a sneak thief, a pander, a cheap gambler … a hood. There was no earlier mention of hood by the Association prior to 1933 which means just as there could be no dime store hoods prior to 1896 as dime stores first came into existence in 1896, there could be no dime store hoods much before the 1930s as the word hood referring to criminals was not in use before the 1930s.

With dime store firmly established by 1928 and hood meaning a low-life criminal by 1933, there’s a five-year span in which the words could be tied to each other.

This led Idiomation to question whether Stephen King was the first to coin the expression in his novella, “The Body” in the collection “Different Seasons” — which was adapted into the movie “Stand By Me” — published in 1982. To this end, Idiomation has reached out to Stephen King via his website asking if this is an idiom he coined specifically for his story.

While Idiomation continues to research this idiom, it will have to be marked as unknown on this blog. Until then, maybe you would like to check out the history behind the idiom drop a dime.

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