Sunday, October 09, 2005

Long time ago

There's a new supermarket opening nearby, this Wednesday. It's a Giant. Giant is the name of the chain. But it is a giant. It's the biggest grocery store I've seen in Pennsylvania. It will have a coffee shop with internet access and a fireplace, a café, a Weight-Watchers, a child care center, a community room, some sort of work-out place, a bank, a dry cleaners, two nutritionists, a chef's grill, carving station and take-out/eat-in meals, a cooking school, an in-house Staples store, an in-house Hallmark card shop, of course a drive-through pharmacy, oh, the list seems endless. All of this IN the store. Inside the store. Amazing. To me anyway.

You know at the beginning of the 20th century, grocery stores in the U.S. were "full service." A customer would ask a clerk behind the counter for specific items and the clerk would package the stuff for them. Even the early chain stores were all entirely full-service.

But in 1916, a paradigm shift occurred in this kinda stuff. The idea of a "self-serving store" was actually patented. Seems like such an obvious idea. But it was patented. Don't know how you would patent it. Anyone could do it.

According to the Smithsonian Institution, the first real supermarket in the U.S. was opened in 1930. Now I'm sure in the north, that these things became very common, very quickly.

But I was raised in the south. We were way behind the north in those days.

My very first school field trip was to a new fangled idea place: a supermarket. This would have been probably in 1946. Forty-five five-year-olds held hands and walked two-by-two a few blocks down to this new thing. We got a tour and a spiel about how wonderful this was and how it was something called "the wave of the future." That meant zip to us.

My Mama still did her shopping at a store where she called in her order like this:
"About a half pound of ground beef, a few slices of bologna, a half-dozen eggs, a can of peas..." Like that. She coulda ordered 4 eggs. That would have been okay. You didn't have to buy them in a particular quantity.

A black man named John would deliver the groceries at some point during the day. It didn't matter when. Mama was home. Mama was always home.

You could go down to the store and pick out your own stuff, but why bother? But once when Mama was in a sort of a hurry for some eggs, she sent me down to get some. At the store the eggs were just out in a big box thing. Beside that was a stack of egg cartons. You just picked out the eggs you wanted and put them into a carton and took them up to the old-fashioned counter.

I was 6 at the time. I can still see my little hands reaching into the egg box and picking up eggs. I didn't know how to handle them. I crushed at least a dozen eggs trying to get the half-dozen she had told me to get. I would reach in and truly try to be gentle, but my little fingers didn't know how. My fingers would just break right into an egg. Try again. Break another one. FINALLY the jerk at the counter moved his lazy butt and came out and got them for me. There was a pretty good mess goin' on by this time.

When the monthly grocery bill came, he had charged Mama for all the ones I had broken. We were poor, and this was quite a blow to her. I'm talkin' poor. I hadn't told her about the ones I had broken because the guy hadn't fussed at me or anything. The day the bill came was a sad day for me. Mama didn't yell at me. She was an easy Mama. I just knew that money was not something we had, and I was sad that I had caused her this woe.

She stopped using that store. A new store called a supermarket --Mack's Grocery Store -- soon opened fairly nearby. You couldn't call in your order there, but they did deliver the stuff to you after you had come in and picked it all out yourself and paid for it. It seemed like such a big store at the time, but it was about the size of a modern 7-11.

My memory of Mack's is a big jar of jellybeans. This was a HUGE jar of jellybeans. There was a contest to guess how many beans were in the jar. It wasn't just a contest for kids; grown-ups entered too. I was a pretty smart little kid. I didn't just take a wild guess. I studied the jar. I won.

But not the jellybeans. The prize was a big ol' doll. I wasn't a doll-type girl. I wanted the jellybeans. I gave the doll to my sister Bonnie. She loved it. A girlie-girl for sure.
That Bonnie. I was smart. She was lucky.

30 comments:

still life said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
still life said...

Sorry about that, my voice activated program got a little nutty and jumped the gun.
I love this story and wonder if they have any of those small service grocery stores anymore.
I actually do all of my grocery shopping in a kind of order and have it delivered away. There is a service here called fresh direct and you go online choose all of your items, pick a date and time for delivery and voila there it is. It's actually perfect for me.

Monique said...

What a great story! I never experienced that kind of full service grocery store. It's nice to read about it.

natasha said...

Great site here. I've bookmarked it!

Now, don't you think you could use some enlargement?


SAVE ME, LUCE! I've had so many ads the last couple of weeks!

Lucy said...

I have fond memories of the corner grocery - we'd go there every Sunday to buy 1/2 gallon ice cream and a big jar of chocolate syrup. I so much remember walking in the store - standing on the ledge of the freezer so i could reach the cartons. Yep - remember it like it was yesterday; they were 39 cents each. Have not thought about this for such a long time. I miss small town grocery stores and the good memories that came with them. I also wonder what happen to the cent sign on my PC keyboard - can't find it on mine. Michael Dell what did you do with the cent sign?

Good story TLP.

Mike said...

That seems cold that your Mom was charged for the eggs you broke, that sucks. Enjoyed reading a memory of yours!

Mary said...

I'm so sorry that you didn't get the jellybeans. :(

Great story. My "small town" store was the corner store in my neighborhood that sold a little of everything, but I just went there for the candy. :)

Saur♥Kraut said...

GREAT story, as always, Lucy.

Let me tell you about my shopping experiences when I lived in Sweden in the 80s.

I come from a major metro area. Now, it's not as big as NY or Chicago (thankfully) nor as dirty or corrupt. Plus, we have grass and palm trees. But it's big enough that when you grow up here, you take certain things for granted such as fully stocked supermarkets, hotel rooms with their own bathroom, etc.

In the more rural areas of Sweden (where WE still would have fully stocked supermarkets) you couldn't even find processed chocolate. Now, I am addicted to chocolate. I will take it in ANY form, from M&Ms to Dove Bars. I ended up so desperate that I eventually would buy sugar and cocoa powder and mix them together and eat it by the spoonful.

There was SO MUCH that they didn't have, in their 'largest' supermarkets (which were no bigger than an Eckerds). When I finally got back home, I wandered through the aisles of Publix in bliss.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

My Mom worked in a little grocery store during World War II, which was kind of neat because we didn't really have enough rationing stamps to cover all the meat we were able to get. Hee.

Check Reagan's will. Maybe he left you some jelly beans and nobody told you about it.

dddragon said...

Com'on mom, tell 'em about Pappa's grocery store on Montery Road in Los Angeles. I loved spending time there. And Pappa would let me pick out the penny candy that he would put out to sell.

Oh, and next time you're up by Bethlehem, look for Wegmans. It will make the new Giant look small.

Amber said...

They're redoing the Safeway near our house. Again. Although it was already HUGE, now it's going to be HUGER!

I dunno. I'm going in the opposite direction. Lately I prefer shopping at Whole Foods, which isn't as small as the Mom and Pop stores were, but it's still a LOT smaller than all the supermarkets around here.

And I go to our nearby locally owned hardware store when we need something for the house instead of Home Depot or whatever.

I don't believe Bigger is Better. I like talking to the butcher and pointing out which cut of meat I want. I like it that it's not very big; when I come out, I don't feel like I've been inside for days on end like with the Giant Stores.

Great story, TLP. Loved it. :-)

Jamie Dawn said...

I've never heard of Giant. I wonder if it's franchised?
It offers more than Wal-Mart Super Stores. WOW!

mireille said...

do you remember what the little broken-egg store smelled like? when we lived in Sweetser, Indiana, there was an old "full service" grocery/hardware store that sounded like that. And the floors were oiled wood and the whole place smelled like that oil. your memories seem to always have a poignancy. nice work. xoxo

actonbell said...

Wonderful story--I hadn't heard that. It's sad that they charged for the broken eggs, since you were just a small child. Normal people make allowances for small children. And very interesting stuff about The Way Things Were.

Tan Lucy Pez said...

Still life, it's lucky for you to live in NY. You would never find that in this town.

Monique - thanks.

Natasha - You're going to have to call the spam police. Talk to Still Life. She got spam in FRENCH. I'm so jealous.

Lucy - Nobody has a cent sign on the keyboard now. Inflation.

Mike - It was cold, and it was mean. But I did NOT suck those eggs. Had a dog once that did that.

Mary - we sometimes collected coke bottles that had been tossed to the side of the road, and took them to the store to trade for penny candy. Fun.

Saurkraut - I am a registered chocoholic. I don't even want to get well.

Hoss - You are right! Nancy probably wouldn't phone me about those jellybeans! I'll put in a call to her right away.

3D - I could tell a story or two on my daddy...

Amber - I don't believe that bigger is better either. I don't go to WalMart if I can avoid it, which I can. But a coffee shop with a fireplace right in the store will lure me in.

J.D.- it's a frachanise with headquarters in PA. But unlike WalMart, they won't sell clothes, bedding, etc. Nothing like that.

Mireille - I'm glad you mentioned that! It smelled like wood. Or maybe it is the oil that they put on the wood. It had old wood floors.

Acton - "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." (L.P. Hartley)

BarbaraFromCalifornia said...

Your stories are always filled with information AND inspiration, TLP!

I have seen those supermarkets. Reminds me of a self-contained city in some ways. But with the way in which big business is becoming a replacement for the type of mom and pop operation you mention, it is of no suprise that these stores are becomming popular today.

Wonder if they have electric carts???

Tan Lucy Pez said...

LOL, Barbara. Well, yes they do! But just for the handicapped.

Fred said...

It sounds just like a Wal-Mart. Which, incidentally, is why I'll never go there. It's a zoo. And a messy one at that.

AP3 said...

Dang, you're older than dirt, TLP!

Yeah, it's amazing how much things have changed.

That new Giant sounds wacky!

Canadian Dude said...

What a wonderful trip down grocery store memory lane.

I think that new giant store sounds amazing....especiallly the internet cafe.

I do all the grocery shopping in our household. It's my Friday night outing.

Cheers!

The Lazy Iguana said...

My grandfather was a chicken farmer. Well, more like a chicken egg farmer. But you can not just farm the eggs, you need chickens to produce them.

Anyway, he lived in either Louisiana, or Alabama, or South Floirda. Somewhere in sticksville. Should have given him a call on the tin can string phone when you needed the eggs.

Libby said...

TLP- kevin was the meat mgr at a small store like that from 90-97....it was neat! very small town!
BoUnCeS!! LibbY!

Tan Lucy Pez said...

Fred - No, we have a super WalMart in a town about 6 miles away. This won't be like that at all. Not one tiny bit messy. We're a town of about 7,000 people. People will not shop at a messy place.

Hey AP3, thanks for the reminder!

Canadian Dude - LOL on the outing.

LI - I'll have you know that we had a actual phone. Four-party line.

LibbY - I still buy meat at the local farmer's market, which is open on Fridays and Saturdays. Talk about a good time!

Doug said...

That was a great story and well told. Poor little TLP.

kenju said...

You just gave me a good idea for a post, Tan Lucy. Thanks for stirring up a few good memories for me.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

It sounds a big place. Selling food seems like a sideline.

dddragon said...

You've been tagged! Check my blog for the rules. It's not hard, and should prove interesting.

Blueberry said...

We have a huge new Whole Foods, it's the world headquarters for a kindof health food oriented chain. It's got a big parking garage (always nearly full!), parking valet, escalators, and inside it reminds me a little of shopping Vegas, not sure exactly why, maybe because it's all high-end stuff and glitz. They also have a roof terrace where they have concerts sometimes. Robert Earl Keen played there (but he does Austin grocery store HEB gigs, maybe it's a Texas thing).

The Coupon Guru said...

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