The Neighborhood Grocer

by Bill Newman

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 error.

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 low.

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 there.


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