Back in time at Berdine’s Five & Dime

Berdine’s Five & Dime (photo by Becky Linhardt)

Harrisville, West Virginia, boasts the oldest operating dime store in the United States. Berdine’s Five & Dime began as a general store in 1908 and has been operating at its current location on Court Street since 1915. It looks to be ready for an even longer stay.

Fred Berdine, son of the founder of the store, sold it to the Six family in 1983, and the new owners worked to restore it to its original look and feel. “Their vision was to keep it as living history and as an escape from the contemporary world,” says store manager Karen Harper. “It is and always has been a small family business.”

Berdine’s promotes itself as “One Giant Leap Back in Time.” The store is located in a white clapboard building with the green lawn of the 19th-century Ritchie County Courthouse on one side and an 1899 brick building housing law offices on the other. Steps lead up to the porch and a bench outside, while inside, customers find original wood shelving, pressed tin ceilings, and lots of unique products.

Adults have a tendency to become kids again as they wander the aisles, finding old favorites along with fun and interesting new items. More than one customer has had to have the “secret” of woven “finger traps” revealed. Grandparents love to buy wooden pop guns, Jacob’s Ladders, and ball-and-cup toys to share with their grandchildren. “We have a large selection of paper dolls, and jack-in-the-boxes sell very well,” Harper says. “We also have contemporary bobbleheads and unique ‘Moving Picture’ books that have images that appear to move like in a movie.”

Those who remember pressing their noses against the expansive candy counters at their local five-and-dime will not be disappointed with the Berdine’s experience. Often, visitors responding to a friendly hello from the staff with a “just looking” become customers — buying candy, if nothing else.

“Customer favorites include real old-fashioned chocolate drops, chocolate-covered English walnuts, and red velvet cherries — dried cherries coated in a red-colored white chocolate,” Harper says. Berdine’s also stocks numerous types of “penny candy” and sour cherry balls. “When I visit Berdine’s, I have to buy coconut bonbons, my husband’s favorite,” says Donna Reaser of Clarksburg.

Over the years, Reaser has developed a collection of Christmas ornaments purchased at Berdine’s. “I love the old-time Christmas decorations they have,” she says. Other products that may seem old-fashioned include ladies’ hankies, Rosebud Salve, Unker’s Healing Salve, and Poison Ivy Soap. Kitchen items include measuring spoons marked Pinch, Dab, Nib, and Smidgen.

“The owner likes science stuff, so we always have something scientific — but playful,” says Harper. Current stock includes Newton’s cradles, Euler’s Disks (kinetic energy), a wind-power generating kit, science/magic items, and even “spyglasses” — sunglasses with rear-vision mirroring that allows you to see behind you, because, after all, looking back can be fun.