HISTORY OF F.W. WOOLWORTH
I grew up listening to my grandmother and great grandmother tell stories about Nashville and how things used to be. They shared memories of shopping for Easter dresses at Harvey’s Department Store and being bribed to behave with milkshakes from Woolworth. When I heard the building was being restored, I couldn’t wait to check it out and get a glimpse into the old Nashville my family had always talked about.
Last month I had the opportunity to sit down with Tom Morales of TomKats Hospitality, a fellow Nashville native, over a cup of coffee at the historic Woolworth lunch counter. He speaks with such pride about his latest project and was kind enough to take me, my mom, Mimi and Cameron on a tour of the building.
Though the Woolworth building is nostalgic for my family, it’s historical significance goes far beyond that. Originally a “five and dime” store, F. W. Woolworth became the site of some of the first lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. In 1960, a group of 124 students from Nashville’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities walked into Woolworth and asked to be served at the lunch counter. White resisters refused and fought back with violence – throwing the students from their seats and spitting on them – while the protestors sat quietly. Police arrested 81 student protesters with disorderly conduct.These sit-ins played an integral part in desegregation and went on to change the course of history.
“It was something as simple as eating and they weren’t allowed to do it,” Tom said.
That really struck a chord with me. It was pretty surreal to sit at the iconic lunch counter where those students fought for the most basic rights less than 60 years ago. They sat down to stand up for what was right.
WOOLWORTH ON 5TH TODAY
TomKats Hospitatlity is the managing company behind essential Nashville restaurants such as Acme Feed & Seed, Fin & Pearl and The Southern Steak & Oyster. Everything they touch is carefully crafted and Woolworth on 5th is no exception. The three story operation includes a mezzanine with a bar and lounge, the main dining floor and a New Era Ballroom on the basement level. The basement is an event space and, in true Nashville fashion, a live music space. You can check out their upcoming event calendar here.
When you step into Woolworth on 5th, you’re immediately transported to the past. The original terrazzo floors and handrails have been restored and historic photographs line the walls. I would describe the lunch menu as southern soul food with a twist. The pot roast was a crowd favorite. The dinner menu is a bit more elevated with dishes such as the hibiscus brined pork chops.
So many elements come together to make Woolworth on 5th the most historically significant restaurant in town. The history of Nashville is rich and it should be preserved. We continually see historic buildings torn down for the next best thing with no regard to the past that makes the city what it is today. The restaurant brings something interesting to the Downtown Nashville restaurant scene while setting a loud and clear example: you don’t have to sacrifice history to create something new and unique.
The building is now part of the newly launched U.S. Civil Rights Trail, which charts the course of the civil rights movement at more than 100 locations across 14 states. Woolworth on 5th beautifully pays homage to the building’s history while creating new traditions for the future of Nashville.