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Cottrell’s Five & Dime: Gone but not forgotten

Cottrell's Five and Dime store was a Winter Park institution before closing in 1985.

Cottrell's Five and Dime store was a Winter Park institution before closing in 1985.

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Businesses come and go no matter where you live. But while some fade away with little notice, others are long remembered, even missed.

The recent closing of Brandywine’s Deli is a reminder that even well-LUVed local businesses eventually end. There were at least two Facebook pages started in tribute of Brandywine’s, one specifically hoping to prevent its closure.

In 1985 there was a similar effort with another popular Winter Park business: Cottrell’s Five & Dime. Before it closed, local residents started a petition hoping to prevent it from shuttering its doors. Its owner of 35 years, Mr. David Elliott, recalls a woman who showed up at the store waving her finger in his face and declaring he could not close. That was 27 years ago now. Yet each time the subject of favorite past businesses on the Avenue is posed on my ILUVWinterPark.com Facebook pages, Cottrell’s is always mentioned.

“For a while, every time I went to the bank down here on Aloma, or Publix, people would come to me and ask ‘Why aren’t you down there in that store?’ I had hundred of items they couldn’t find anywhere else. I learned to read their minds and knew what they wanted,” Elliott said. “Of course the chain stores moving in didn’t know what in the hell they wanted.”

I added that he was their neighbor, he knew them and he nodded in agreement and smiled. “Yeah.”

I’d never heard of Winter Park in 1985, but in the last few years I’ve gotten a crash course in the special feelings many had for Cottrell’s and other past Winter Park businesses after moving next door to Mr. Elliott. Being his neighbor, I’ve taken special note of comments and stories.

Started by his father-in-law, the store’s namesake, Cottrell’s originally opened in 1933/34. Mr. Elliott and his wife took over the store in 1950 and operated it for 35 years until selling the building in 1985. That covers a lot of time, and a lot of change in America. I recently took him back to visit his old store location — now Chico’s — and to have lunch at 310 Park South and visit the “Park Avenue in the ‘60s and ‘70s” exhibit at the Winter Park Historical Association museum.

To accent the span of time since he first operated Cottrell’s, Mr. Elliott noted, “Back in 1950 when I first took over Cottrell’s Five & Dime, you could come into the store and buy three items for a dollar and get change.” Then he laughed.

A friend of mine who grew up in Winter Park, Brendan Kennedy, has often commented on his fondness for Cottrell’s Five & Dime. I asked him why it holds such a special place in his memory and he said, “As I remember it, I liked everything about Cottrell’s, especially the dime store toy soldiers. They had ‘em and I wanted ‘em. It was like Graceland for a 5- to 10-year-old boy in the ‘70s!”

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Sassafras Sweet Shop in Winter Park offers a taste of nostalgia.

The range of offerings was large, with Elliott estimating 12,000 to 15,000 individual items. “We had hair nets… nylon hairnets, hairnets with just a bun in the back… thousands of hairnets. And now they’re gone. Nobody would know what the heck I was talking about. It was a different world back then. If they (customers) moved somewhere else, they’d be writing me to mail them hairnets. They were what, 15, maybe 25 cents, it wasn’t a good idea for me to get involved in mail order,” he added, though he always did.

I asked him what he most fondly remembers about operating the store, and I was not surprised by his answer: “My beautiful wife behind the cash register,” he said. His wife, Mary, passed away in 1992. On a recent visit to his house he pulled out her high school yearbook and asked me to read the caption beside her photo: “Would there were others like her.”

On that day we walked along Park Avenue and he shared stories from the store and his childhood. He remarked at the volume of cars on the street, the people walking about and commented: “Winter Park has kinda made a comeback.”

He spoke again of the items carried in his store, which included candy, and mentioned that growing up during the Great Depression he’d beg his parents for a nickel “for a Black Cow (candy) and maybe go next door to see a 10 cent movie.” A light bulb came on over head, and I knew we had to visit Sassafras Sweet Shoppe.

He walked around looking at the amazing selection, commenting here and there, but mostly noting how pretty the employee — Ashlee Workman — was behind the counter.

That is typical Mr. Elliott. Would that there were more like him.

Clyde Moore operates local sites ILUVWinterPark.com, ILUVParkAve.com and LUVMyRate.com, and aims to help local businesses promote themselves for free and help save them money, having some fun along the way. Email him at iluvwinterpark@earthlink.net or write to ILuv Winter Park on Facebook or Twitter.