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W. T. Grant Co., Reading, PA

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Long before the days of big-box stores like Walmart and Target, five-and-dime stores had everything you needed. You could buy clothes, grab some treats, and eat lunch for under $20. Kresge's, W. T. Grants, Woolwoth's, and McCrory's, all once were a part of Reading's main street.

W. T. Grants or Grants was a chain founded by William Thomas Grant. Stores were generally of the dime store format and located in downtowns but some were located in new shopping centers built in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1906 the first "W. T. Grant Co. 25 Cent Store" opened in Lynn, Massachusetts. Modest profit, coupled with a fast turnover of inventory, caused the stores to grow to almost $100 million a year in sales by 1936.

It was on April 6, 1917 that the first W. T. Grant store was opened in the Reading area at 508 Penn Street. Long before the opening hour at 10 a.m., hundreds of eager shoppers congregated on the sidewalk. Throughout the day the aisles were packed with men, women and children and the sales force of 75 girls was kept busy attending to the wants of the eager purchasers. The store was the 28th store to open in the growing chain, and originally opened as a "25 cent department store." In the year it opened, sales were $4,511,000.

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    Original W. T. Grant Co. building, 508 Penn Street
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    Early view of 500 block of Penn Street, south side. Right to left from corner: Mansion House, Bright Realty Company, and W. T. Grant Co.

In 1931, the Penn Street store was gutted by fire, resulting in $60,000 damage. The contents were completely destroyed. The store was rebuilt after the fire and re-employed the entire sales personnel, which was more than 200 persons.

The W. T. Grant Company expanded its Penn Street building in 1939 to include 504 and 506 Penn Street. The old S. J. Kotzen building, 508 Penn St., occupied by the W. T. Grant Company, and the Bright Realty Company building, 504-506 Penn St., were razed and replaced with a new building. The new building had a frontage of 60 feet, a depth of 230 feet, and consisted of two stories and basement. Double the size of the original store, the new building was equipped with a luncheonette, customers' lounge, a mezzanine and 34 departments. When the city in 1955 widened Cherry Street, the store constructed a store front facing Cherry Street.

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    W. T. Grant Co., Penn Street, Reading, PA
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    W. T. Grant Co., Penn Street, Reading, PA
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    W. T. Grant Co., Penn Street, Reading, PA

W. T. Grant Company opened additional stores in the Shillington Shopping Center, in 1957; Antietam Shopping Center, in 1960; and Madeira Shopping Center, Muhlenberg Township, in 1969.

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    W. T. Grant Co., Shillington Shopping Center.

In the early 1970s W. T. Grant Company was the seventeenth largest retailer in the United States, with 1,200 stores producing profits of $38 million on $1.6 billion in sales. Grant's profits began a steady decline in 1970 culminating in massive operating losses in 1974 and the first seven months of 1975. The company closed 66 stores during 1974, and the Grant Antietam Valley Shopping Center was among them. The store was affected by a nationwide move by the company to close unprofitable stores.

The W. T. Grant Company filed for Chapter XI bankruptcy in October 1975. Grant's bankruptcy was the largest retail store bankruptcy until the bankruptcy filing by K-mart in 2002. The most apparent cause of the bankruptcy was the company's decision to extend store credit to all customers, with no attempt made to assess the customer's ability to repay. Each of the company's stores had credit managers who authorized the opening of store credit accounts, which resulted in many customers having credit accounts with more than one of the company's stores.

The three greater Reading stores, at 508 Penn Street, Madeira Plaza in Muhlenberg Township, and at the Shillington Shopping Center, closed on February 13, 1976.