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Wantagh 5 & 10 bids farewell after luring shoppers for more than 60 years

John and Anna Norris, owners of the Wantagh

John and Anna Norris, owners of the Wantagh 5 & 10 for the past 10 years, said it's time to retire. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

The days of being able to buy a night light, zipper, wine glass, piggy bank and nightgown from a single store are coming to an end in Wantagh.

After more than 60 years in business, the Wantagh 5 & 10 is closing. Its last day will be sometime before the end of the year.

The community fixture is the latest of Long Island's once ubiquitous old-fashioned variety stores to close, many driven out of business by competition from malls, internet retailers, big-box stores and dollar shops, experts say.

The Wantagh shop is closing for happier reasons, according to John Norris, who owned it with his wife, Anna, for the past decade.

"Time to retire," said Norris, 70. "I sold the building." He declined to identify the buyer.

The closure leaves one less shopping destination for the Amazon-and-Walmart-averse Long Islander, many of whom have made pilgramges to Wantagh in recent weeks to pick through what's left of Norris' inventory.

"I knew they were closing so I wanted to come in," said Marie Avila, of West Hempstead, on a recent night in the shop. "I'd rather be here than the big stores. I hate big stores," she said, pushing a shopping cart that contained a puzzle set and balls of yarn.

Susan Calandro also traveled from many communities over to browse the wares one last time.

"I'm going to miss it so much," said Calandro, of Franklin Square, whose cart contained a burgundy shower curtain and a tension rod.

"I don't ever order online," she said. "You know he has it here."

Norris' offerings are comprehensive and eclectic. Even six weeks into his final sale, a customer could still take home a mug with a taxi on it, a sign that read "home is where the wine is," a glue stick, a greeting card and underwear — all from a single store aisle.

"Unexpected treasures" is how customer Tim Cavanagh explained the store's appeal. His finds so far that night: a champagne-colored kitchen timer and a pocket-size tube of bug repellent. 

The Norrises' expansive, affordable catalogs are what made so-called five and dimes so successful in America for much of the 20th century, said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of a consumer industry consulting firm that has studied Long Island retail. He estimated there were once several hundred on Long Island alone. But the rise of shopping malls and dollar stores gradually eroded their customer base, among other factors. He estimates that there are no more than a dozen left in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

For Salvador Carcamo, the Wantagh store was more than just a place to shop.

"That's like my school here. I learned a lot," he said, English being the main thing he picked up. Carcamo, who came here from El Salvador, worked at the store for 23 years.

After the last customer left, Carcamo helped Norris close up.

"Don't forget the night lights," he said to Norris, pointing to an array of illuminated bulbs near the cash register. Norris switched them off.

Wantagh 5 & 10

  • 1901 Wantagh Ave.
  • Opened in the 1950s
  • Owned by John and Anna Norris for the past decade
  • Closing by year’s end

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