Those Were the Days

by Jack Keegan


I wonder how many of you remember the James Butler Stores in Newark.

Through a neighborhood friend I was able to obtain a job there. The store I worked in was located on the corner of Fleming Avenue and Oxford Street in the Chellis Austin Apartments. The buildings were known locally as the Pru Apartments and had been constructed by the Prudential Insurance Company to provide affordable housing for Down Neck.

The store manager was a remarkable German gentlemen, if I recall correctly was named Mr. Becker. Items for sale came much differently in those days then they do to-day. Butter was not in plastic containers but in a wooden tub. Sugar came in a large wooden barrel not cardboard boxes. Potatoes arrived in burlap sacks not plastic. Nabisco cookies of all kinds arrived in Brown cardboard boxes about twelve inches square,with a metal and hinged Glass cover.

When a customer asked for One half pound of Butter,a large knife was used to cleave out the article of proper weight. In time I became very proficient in doing that. It was then placed in wax paper and weighted before being put into a brown paper bag.

Likewise with sugar-the sweetening product came in a large wooden barrel. Using a metal scoop it was transferred to what else, a brown paper bag. With repetition you knew how many scoops for a certain weight. Potatoes that came in burlap sacks were weighed in a scale that hung from an overhead beam .One of the really tough jobs was bringing Potatoes up from the basement, the full bags were heavy and it required quite a bit of muscle to move them from down below to street level.

The cookies in square brown boxes were sold by the piece. Other items handled were, of course, cans of vegetables and some packaged foods. Objects on high shelves were retrieved by a contrivance called a reacher, it was a long handled instrument equipped with a pair of wire hands that grasped the item so that you could bring it down safely.

All pricing was done on, what else, Brown Paper Bags. We had to be able to count, add and not make mistakes, it was long before computers.

Mr Becker was a very compassionate man, many neighborhood people benefited from his use of what was called "In the Book". Purchases made during the week were recorded In The Book, come the end of the week, Payday, they showed up to clear the ledger. I don't know of anyone that ever failed to pay.

Working every day after school and all day Saturday for Six($6.00) dollars per week. Doesn't sound like much money by today's standards but it was a princely sum during those depression times and helped at home.


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