Looking back one must conclude that the
neighborhood grocer was a combination human calculator and computer.
It seemed that the grocer instantly knew the answer to any question
about his business.
If you asked where a certain item was, such as Campbell's pea
soup, you might get an answer like this, "I sold out last night,
but more is coming in tomorrow at 2:30. Come back then." He
knew the location of every item, the price, whether or not it was
is stock and if not, when it would be.
At the completion of a sale, before bagging any items, all the
retail prices were written on a bag. The grocer added up the figures
faster than most people can do on a calculator. A pencil stub about
two inches long was part of a grocers standard equipment. As each
column was added he would write the figure down and put the pencil
point in his mouth and spin it about. My mother checked the addition
on every bag from the grocer. I don't believe she ever caught an
It was seldom that anyone paid the grocery bill at the time of
the sale. The grocer had a black and white blank book. Customers
names were written on the various pages. It was a simple matter
to enter a date and the amount of the charged items. When a bill
was paid he simply crossed the amount off. There is no doubt the
the neighborhood grocer had more people owing him money than the
neighborhood bank did.
There were many items that were carried in the grocery store that
were what were called a bulk items. Butter, cheeses, many brands
of coffee, cakes, candies, and pickles were some of the many bulk
items. If you asked for 1/4lb of butter, the grocer opened a refrigerated
compartment in which was a large tub of butter, he would cut off
a piece and catch it on a waxed paper and weigh it. Usually it weighed
exactly what was asked for.
Coffee beans were first weighed and then ground to your order.
It was a thing of beauty to watch the grocer extract a pickle from
a vat of brine. There was sometimes a doubt as to whether or not
a short grocer would fall into the vat when the pickle supply was
Many kinds of cookies, candies and nuts were delivered to the
grocer in large burlap bags. A bag usually weighed about 50 lbs.
Many times if the grocer was busy the customer reached into the
bag and took a handful of the contents. If too much was taken, the
excess was thrown back.
If any grocer operated today as they did in the 30's they would
have untold health department violations and be facing a multitude
of law suits.
I cannot ever recall anyone getting sick and blaming it on unsanitary
conditions at the grocery store. Today we frequently read of a food
store being sued because someone got sick from an item purchased