Before Hoy’s: A Look Back at Jim Wood
and His 5 & 10 Stores
By Linda Dougherty
Wood’s 5 & 10 was open year-round from 1948-1967.
Jim and Marie Wood
When Jim Wood came to Stone Harbor 70 years ago, he was searching for a place to start his own business.
He wanted to model his business after the old F.W. Woolworth stores, for which he had worked many years, and found a prime spot right on 96th Street. Back then, 96th Street looked much different than it does today, and Stone Harbor was a close-knit, working-class town, a place where everyone knew one another.
For decades thereafter, Wood was well-known as the proprietor of Stone Harbor’s Variety Store, later to be rechristened the J.G. Wood 5 & 10, a favorite place to shop for both year-round residents and summer visitors.
As the years passed, Wood opened additional locations in Wildwood and Avalon, raised a family, and eventually became a Borough Councilman and then mayor of Stone Harbor. Later, he would sell the business to the Hoy family, a name that most vacationers today recognize on Seven Mile Beach.
But it all started with Jim Wood.
Born in 1912 in Cleveland, Wood’s British parents settled on Hand Avenue in Wildwood, where Wood grew up. During his sophomore year at Wildwood High School, he started working as a stock boy at the F.W. Woolworth store in Wildwood, then upon graduation in 1930 became an assistant manager-in-training for Woolworth’s in Newark. In 1934, he became manager for a Woolworth’s in Upper Darby, and a year later took a manager position at a Woolworth’s at 26th and Federal streets in Camden. Six years later, America was involved in World War II, and Wood joined the Navy in 1942, became an officer and served four years in Washington.
“Because of my work experience at Woolworth’s, I was assigned to place contracts for the D.C. Navy Supply Depot,” Wood said in a published interview in 2005. After he left the Navy, he went back to Woolworth’s and worked in three locations – including as manager of Woolworth’s largest store, on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia – before deciding to venture out on his own.
“Then it dawned on me,” he said. “If I could make money for F.W. Woolworth, I could make it for me.”
Soon after, Wood found a store for rent, owned by Joe DeRose, at 248 96th St.
in Stone Harbor, and thus launched his own variety store in 1949. Wood was so proud to be the proprietor of his own establishment that he bought letters to put on the storefront, and applied gold leaf on each one by hand. An early photograph shows him standing outside of the store in short sleeves and a bow tie, near the striped fringed awning and front window filled with merchandise for young and old. Like Woolworth’s, it would offer a little bit of everything – including a lunch counter, behind which Wood’s wife, Marie, would work for many years.
It was an interesting story of how Wood met his wife. In 1934, he and a friend were at Weber’s Hof Brau, a tavern in Camden, and he saw Marie sitting across the bar. He said to his friend, “I’m going to marry her,” and then later took the only piece of paper he had, a portion of a deposit slip, to write down her name and number. Six months later, they were married – a marriage that lasted 61 years and produced two daughters, Linda Wood Picanza and Nancy Wood Vogt, five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Marie passed away in 1996, and Jim in 2010, when he was 98.
Jim Wood in front of his original store in 1948 before it was expanded to include a lunch counter.
“We have Dad’s wallet, and that little deposit slip was still inside,” Linda says with a smile.
For the first three years, the Wood family lived in the back end of the store, with Wood paying rent to the electric company, which had a big brick building located just to the rear, for inventory storage.
“My mother called that ‘living in a fishbowl,’ ” says Linda, who has many fond memories of those early days and still lives in Stone Harbor. “It was a very small space. There was a kitchen, a little place to sit, a bathroom, and two bedrooms, one for my parents and one for my sister Nancy and I. My sister and I would play in the store, and sometimes we would pretend that we were mannequins in the store window. When the movie would let out [at the Harbor Theater], our store would be closed, but we would be posing.”
Linda recalls that, inside the store, her father had built a small office just up a few steps, and that’s where her parents counted the money at the end of the day.
“From there, you could look out and down and see the lunch counter and the toy counters,” she says. “So the kids also knew that Mr. Wood might just be peeking out if you were messing around too much.”
Like most shops on the island today, all of the Wood 5 & 10’s had extended hours in the summertime, although they were open year-round.
“In the summer we were open in the evenings,” says Linda, “but we waited until after the movie got out to close, because we had the lunch counter and people would come in for something to eat. After we closed, I remember my parents would be counting the money, and my sister and I would be allowed to make ice cream sundaes for ourselves.”
Linda recalls that her father and mother worked very hard at keeping the store humming. An avid woodworker, Wood hand-made all the store counters, which featured storage underneath with little glass dividers for the merchandise. At the Avalon store, located at 28th Street and 2nd Avenue, the Woods employed a manager, Dick Wilsey, to oversee things.
“My sister and I both worked in the store, too,” Linda says. “When you have a family business, everyone pitches in. As soon as we could write numbers, we were in the stockroom marking price tags on things.”
Wood was known as a strict boss, but very fair. He employed schoolteachers and college students in the summer, and some even started businesses of their own, like Nancy Cunard, who worked at Wood 5 & 10 and then started The Bread & Cheese Cupboard on 96th Street.
J.G. Wood 5 & 10 on 96th Street.
The store’s lunch counter was a popular spot for Stone Harbor locals, as well as for the occasional out-of-town celebrity. It was the place where the local Lions Club was founded, where you could find prominent people like Mrs. Diller, Bill Brighton and Harry Connor, all of Diller & Fisher Realtors, and where, on a memorable Sunday afternoon, Dick Clark came through the door.
During lunchtime from school, Linda and Nancy would walk to the store for something to eat. It was a very busy place.
“All the workmen would be at the lunch counter,” says Linda. “My mother would feed them first so they could get back on the job, and my sister and I would sit under the counter, waiting for our turn.”
In the 1950s, J. G. Wood 5 & 10 was the first store in the area to sell Hula-Hoops and Frisbees, two items that were all the rage during that period.
“My sister and I definitely remember when the Hula-Hoops came into the store, because nobody knew what to do with them,” Linda recalls. “So my dad had the two of us out front on the sidewalk demonstrating the Hula-Hoops. And he couldn’t keep them in stock. He would ride out to meet the truck to get them in ahead of time, they just flew out of the stores, and the same with the Frisbees.”
Linda and Nancy were part of a group called “The 96th Street Gang,” made up of children from families who owned businesses along the street, including Hahn’s Restaurant (located near the Harbor Theater), Seashore Home Supply, Fisher’s Seashore Supply (where Ace Hardware is now), and Laughlin’s, which specialized in various sundries.
The March of ‘62 storm caused plenty of damage to the island, and the J.G. Wood 5 & 10 cent stores in Stone Harbor and Avalon suffered severe flooding. Linda says that, during the storm, her dad, a councilman by that time, had gone to the Avalon location and was trapped there overnight. Waves were breaking against the front windows. He was rescued by the police and taken to Borough Hall, where he joined the mayor and other councilmen to plan the recovery process. During the cleanup of the stores, they found tiny minnows swimming in glassware.
In 1967, a new Wood 5 & 10 was built at 219 96th St., across the street from the original store and where Hoy’s is presently located.
“We had that property for quite a while,” Linda says. “And why we didn’t build a new store before was because that side of the street didn’t have as much activity.”
A year after the building was completed, Wood sold the business to the Hoys but kept the real estate. Unfortunately, in the summer of 1969, a fire that destroyed the building next door traveled through the air conditioning system and consequently, the complete interior of the new store had to be rebuilt.
Wood’s dedication and pride in the Stone Harbor community shone through during his time in the borough government. He served 14 years on the Borough Council, and as mayor from 1975-81. During his tenure, he oversaw the residential development of the southernmost part of Stone Harbor, the founding of the Lions Club, and work on the water tower, among other things.
“My dad enjoyed being mayor, he took it very personally,” Linda says. “He considered it a privilege and an honor.”
After Wood retired, he was able to devote time to two of his favorite pursuits – fishing and gardening. Linda says he grew flowers from seeds and cut the grass himself for their home on Second Avenue, which he had built in the early 1950s.
Jim Wood is remembered as an integral part of the history of Stone Harbor, where he lived, worked and raised a family, and a place he loved.
Spring 2019 Articles: