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Old 01-18-2013, 08:11 AM
Robert Thorne MacRae's Avatar
Robert Thorne MacRae Robert Thorne MacRae is online now
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Default The Small Town Grocery Store: 1920 - 30 ERA

Joe, who this forum is name for sent me this article yesterday that we wanted to post in Joe's Place.

The small town grocery store of the 1920 - 1930 era was a personalized shopping experience. The owner, and other family members, were usually the only employees. They knew every customer personally and could predict with a high degree of accuracy their regular order. There were three main grocery stores in my home town, Mr. Fugate’s, Mr. Haisten’s and Mr. Harris’. The owner, or storekeeper, was a jack of all trades. In addition to his duties as a storekeeper, he was also a butcher.

By today’s standards the stores were small, although at that time they were considered average size stores. On the weekends, specials were advertised on the windows that graced the front of the store. I don’t recall the material used to paint the advertised items but it was easily removed by water early in the week, ready for the next signs to appear. In the fall there was always a barrel at the entrance filled with stalks of sugar cane. In front of the store was one or two benches where a weary shopper could garner a little rest or have a social visit with other townspeople.

Canned goods and other items were on shelves behind a counter. Every employee was known as a clerk. The customer told the clerk behind the counter what items they wanted or gave the clerk a list of items they wanted. The items were then gathered and a sales slip prepared for the customer to sign. Most of the orders were bought on credit and settled, usually on Saturday, at one or two week intervals.

On the counter was a huge roll of wrapping paper about two feet wide. Suspended from the ceiling above the counter near the wrapping paper was a globe like device containing a cone of twine. Below the counter was a supply of paper sacks. Here the items were either bagged or wrapped and tied with the twine.

Items that required refrigeration were placed in a display refrigerator toward the back of the store. On top of this refrigerator was a wheel of cheddar cheese, better known as “rat” cheese. The wheel of cheese sat on a turntable-like device which had a clever-like knife for cutting a wedge shaped piece of cheese.

Another refrigerator unit was used for storing the meats. Near this refrigerator unit was a huge wooden block on which the large piece of meat was placed for butchering. There were no pre-packaged meats so each purchase was cut to order. Out behind the store were chicken coops containing live frying size and roasting size chickens. The customer had a choice of taking a live chicken home or the butcher could kill and clean the chicken for a slight charge. Usually the customer had to cut up the frying size chickens when they got home.

There were two large containers with eggs, one for the brown eggs and one for the white eggs. Eggs were not prepackaged but placed in a paper bag so extreme care had to be exercised when handling the eggs. Flour came in 24 and 48 pound cloth bags. During the depression, the flour bags were made from a good quality cloth with various prints. When the bags were empty, the women washed the cloth and made clothing for the women and girls. Sugar came in a large barrel and was weighed out and bagged for each order. Sometimes the storekeeper would weigh out and bag sugar in 5 pound units and have this ready for his usual Saturday customers. Bananas were always a favorite but their availability depended on when the banana boats made their delivery in Jacksonville. Unlike today, bananas came as a complete stem and was attached to hook on the end of a rope that was suspended from the ceiling. The customer, if they so desired, could select their own bananas from the stem.

Most homes had a kerosene cook stove and many had a kerosene space heater. Grocery stores sold kerosene and the large kerosene tank was usually located behind the building. Customers brought their one, two or five gallon containers for refills. A hand powered pump was mounted on the large kerosene tank to transfer the kerosene to the customers container. Quite often the cap on the pouring spout of the customer’s container was missing but that presented no problem. All one need do was to get a potato from the potato bin and push it down on the pouring spout. The potato served two purposes, it prevented the kerosene from spilling during the journey back home and in most cases it provided food for the family. Naturally the customer would select one of the largest potatoes. When they got home, the potato was removed, the part that was in contact with the kerosene was cut away and the remainder became a part of the customer’s meal. And the potato was free !!!

The favorite spot for the children was the candy counter. Large glass containers were filled with all sorts of candy. Each piece was one cent so it was known as “penny candy”. Candy bars, such as Baby Ruth, cost five cents. Off to one side near the candy was the cold drink box. Bottles of our favorite drinks were placed in the drink box. Later in the morning the ice man made his delivery, leaving a large block of ice at each store. One of the clerks chipped up the ice until it covered all of the bottles. We truly had ice cold Coca-Cola but the favorites were the flavored drinks such as grape, orange and strawberry. Soft drinks cost five cents.

A couple of grocery stores offered an additional service --- a back door order and delivery service. One of the store clerks made an early morning visit to the homes of their regular customers. The clerk informed the housewife of any fresh fruits and vegetables that had just arrived and any specials the store was promoting. Most of the fruits and vegetables were grown locally. The housewife placed an order and delivery was made about two hours later. For those few customers who had a phone, their orders could be placed over the phone.

Living in Florida, we did not have the harsh winters experienced by our neighbors living further North but we did require some heating during the winter and some cooling during the summer. Usually, in the middle of the store was a pot-belly stove located in the middle of a sand box. If all of he store clerks were busy and the stove needed a piece of wood, customers assumed the responsibility of stoking the fire. During the summer overhead fans did little to cool the interior of the store but it did create a welcome breeze.

Such were the grocery stores of the 1920 - 1930 era, a far cry from today’s giant supermarket that sells everything from A to Z.
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Old 01-18-2013, 08:32 AM
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cubarb1991 cubarb1991 is offline
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Default Re: The Small Town Grocery Store: 1920 - 30 ERA

You just can't beat a coke, out of an iced cold bottle.
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Old 02-18-2013, 03:50 PM
TigerinRH TigerinRH is offline
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Default Re: The Small Town Grocery Store: 1920 - 30 ERA

When you sit and think back about all the good things that have come and gone, it seems somewhere we took a wrong turn. Progress?? I think not.
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Old 02-18-2013, 05:25 PM
Tiger80 Tiger80 is offline
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Smile Re: The Small Town Grocery Store: 1920 - 30 ERA

Originally Posted by TigerinRH View Post
When you sit and think back about all the good things that have come and gone, it seems somewhere we took a wrong turn. Progress?? I think not.
Life has changed. We move at a faster pace. Both parents work and school is compulsary. I would argue our free-market system worked. Modern convenience stores evolved out of demand from consumers for more "everything." Southland Ice Company sold ice and added eggs, drinks, bread and milk due to customer demand. It became 7-11 Stores.

Last edited by Tiger80; 02-18-2013 at 05:30 PM.
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Old 04-22-2013, 11:45 PM
Tigs1 Tigs1 is offline
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Default Re: The Small Town Grocery Store: 1920 - 30 ERA

Originally Posted by cubarb1991 View Post
You just can't beat a coke, out of an iced cold bottle.
When I was very young until the age of 14, my father had several Grocery/Fresh Market Type Stores but the original home store was more like described from the 20's-30's.

My father used to keep the water filled Coke box set to slightly 'ice' the neck of a small Coke! What treat on a hot SC summer day. Especially for me if it included a thin slice of hoop cheese & a thick slice of bologna on white bread, straight from fresh sliced on his old Cutting Block I now proudly have in a Summer House.

The days of 'raiding' that place as a child with my Little Rascal friends is a memory that brings smiles to all of us involved. And we never ran when he asked us to help around that store because he paid in fresh dipped ice Creme, snow cones, candy or whatever we wished that day.

And yep, the bananas hung on the stalk as a bunch & were so good! Almost as good as the often dropped July watermelon , as we had to clean it up really fast!
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