Long before Jeff Bezos had dreamed up Amazon, Americans had at their fingertips access to thousands of items any household might need. In two yearly full catalogs and one special Christmas one(tomorrow’s post)we were offered page after page of clothing, household goods, tools, appliances, gifts and furniture. There was little we needed that couldn’t be purchased from Sears.
You filled out an order form with the items you wanted, totaled their cost, enclosed a check for the proper amount and mailed it off. There were no credit cards in those days. If you didn’t have a checking account, you would request the the goods be shipped to you C.O.D. or cash on delivery. This meant exactly what it said. You paid the delivery man the amount you owed Sears when the package was delivered. If you wondered why so many delivery trucks say “We carry no cash” in bold letters on their sides, I suspect it is because so many people think C.O.D. still exists.
Sears is on the verge of bankruptcy or has already begun the process. They blame it all of on-line shopping. A little ironic since they built their business through the mail without depending on “brick and mortar” stores.
While it is true that there was no drugstore on line since there was no on line, that doesn’t mean we didn’t have direct delivery. As I mentioned, our family had one car used by my dad for work. If we needed medicine or other drug items when Dad was at work, Wally of Watson’s Valley Pharmacy brought them to the house. While the photo above is not of his drug store, it is very similar.
There were not many drugs available at the time to treat kids’ infections. Penicillin was delivered by a massive shot in the rear end. One shot and that was it. I wonder sometimes how much antibiotics we were exposed to that way. My brother, however, developed a penicillin allergy(probably related to the question I just asked) and he was treated with sulfa drugs. These came in a little paper box such as shown below.and were delivered by the pharmacist.
One terrible day my brother started eating these from the box and had to be forced to vomit them all back up. There were no childproof little pill boxes.
While I am saving my retail conclusions until the end of the series, I hope by now that many things said to be ruining retail were done in earlier times. It is just that they were phone to and delivery by the vendor in person rather than on-line and delivery by UPS.
Milk was delivered to our back door and left in a little wooden box. My mother would write an order for how many quarts of milk, cartons of cottage cheese or sour cream that she needed and the Alpenrose Dairy man would leave it early in the day. Because she was home there was no worry about the milk getting warm before it was once again refrigerated. She could adjust the order as often as she needed, taking into account extra guests, an upcoming dinner party or a vacation. We never ran out of milk. That was a good thing since it was before the advent of stores open on Sunday or late in the evening.
The Alpenrose Dairy was local, just a few miles from our home. They encouraged field trips for school children and I was able to see the cows, the milking machines, the pastures and drink a glass of cold milk before boarding the bus back to school.
Alpenrose Dairy didn’t need to promote themselves as local and friendly since everyone already knew they were both. After all, a little white truck with a jovial milkman came to our house regularly. So regularly, of course, that in our day a child who didn’t resemble either parent was jokingly linked to the milkman!
Try as I might, I couldn’t find a picture of Vito’s, the first grocery store I remember. So instead I am using a picture of me in the car getting ready to go shopping. (That blur is my brother, and I have tried to be consistent to not post pictures of living people to preserve their privacy as much as I can.)
In 1950 we moved into the first home that my parents owned, a Cape two bedroom with a big yard in a new neighborhood filled with other young families in their first homes. We did all our grocery shopping at Vito’s, a tiny by today’s standards market a couple of miles from our home. We had one car and my dad drove it to work, so my mom relied on him or a neighbor to go to the store. Vito’s had everything we needed, including a butcher and a meat locker where we stored the frozen meat from a hog given us by my father’s senior partner each year. Mostly we stored a bazillion packages of sausage!
His stepson opened a variety store complete with soda fountain in the adjoining building. That store, which filled a niche no neighborhood store seems able to fill today, carried everything else we needed. Shoelaces, pencils, writing tablets, games, toys, balloons, birthday presents and so on.
And for the rest we had hand me downs and the Sears Catalog,
In the United States right now the retail scene is in turmoil with malls closing and much shopping being done on-line. I thought I would spend a few posts reflecting on my experiences with retail over the last 68 years. I figure that in the first three years of my life I was pretty oblivious about where my food, clothing and other life necessities originated. I only started paying attention when I started nursery school at age 3. At that point Harlow Lennon made a nickel appear from behind my ear and asked how I would spend it. My life as a consumer had begun.
When we moved to Connecticut in 2001 we needed a new mattress. We had been inundated with newspaper and radio ads for a chain called “Sleepys.” “Trust Sleepys for the rest of your life.” Cleverly unforgettable, the slogan lured us to the nearest outlet, one of many. We picked out a set, had it delivered and went to sleep. But a few years ago, Mattress Firm bought out Sleepys, changing the signs on all the stores to Mattress Firm. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to tell them that while they may have meant the name to signal that they were a firm that sold mattresses, what stuck in one’s mind was the word “firm.” Firm does not sound nearly as inviting as sleepy. Their business tanked and they have entered bankruptcy.
But taking no responsibility for the name change, they blame on-line mattress sales for their financial woes. They add, in contrast to their first culprit, that “people aren’t going to buy a mattress any more; they want an experience.” Now it is hard to imagine what kind of G-rated experience they are suggesting would invite a buyer into their store. But it was the last comment that intrigued me, and I will spend the next few posts thinking about the experiences I have had in retail over the years. I hope that those readers my age will remember and that younger readers will be mystified about how much things have changed and how much has remained the same.
I have been researching my family history for the last twenty years. It is a hobby I inherited from my maternal grandfather who was fascinated with earlier generations. The interest skipped over to me, and I took up the hobby using his notes, a few recollections of my parents and much time in libraries. I made good use of the Mormons’ microfilms which had to be requested one at a time at the local Family History Center. (As a side note the Mormons do retroactive “sealing” of people into their faith. My grandfather would have been horrified to learn that he is now “sealed” with the Mormons.)
Eventually much information, a great deal of it wrong, became widely available on the internet. By then I had discovered that my paternal grandmother was Jewish. When I shared this knowledge with my father, he adamantly denied it. But it took a $69 DNA test from a company to confirm what my research had already determined. As seen above, I am 27% European Jewish, just as I had learned on my own. The other results verified the rest of my research which had my forebears nearly entirely from Great Britain and among the earliest settlers of New England.
No I didn’t learn that I was really adopted, nor do I have unknown half siblings out there. In fact the only close matches that the site recommended to me were cousins I had already identified, though never met. But it was a fun exercise, even if it simply confirmed that my years of more painstaking research were right.
New England may be most known for maple syrup, but apples thrive here and are available in abundant varieties in baskets shown above. Because many varieties of apples are not ideal for either transport or storage, we can sample older kinds not commercially viable. We can try different kinds and decide what kind of apple we prefer.
Yesterday I bought a couple of a variety new to me called Smitten. After getting home, I saw it had a sticker Smitten.com on it, so I knew something was up. This was clearly not an old variety. I cut it up and ate it deciding I liked it crisp texture but that it was too sweet for me. I then went to Smitten.com and discovered it was a new variety, developed in New Zealand and now being grown in the United States. It is very popular, apparently, along with the Honey Crisp. Both are too sweet for me: I prefer the sharp tang of older varieties. But many Americans have a craving for sweet and apparently apples are being developed to satisfy the desire.
Until recently fresh apples were really only tasty in the fall. But apple tree are prolific bearers and my forebears were faced with what to do with the bounty. So we made apple cider, hard cider, apple cider vinegar, apple butter, apple pie, and applesauce. The peels were used to make the pectin that thickens jelly. Studying the early 1800’s ledger of a store I found that one of my ancestors traded apples for goods. Unfortunately, he traded for rum. Apparently hard cider wasn’t enough!
Of course I spent the afternoon making an apple pie. Simple recipe really: 2 and 1/2 pounds of apples(I mixed three varieties), 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, freshly grated nutmeg, a little cinnamon, a dash of lemon juice and two teaspoons of cornstarch. Pie crust for top and bottom. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees then 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Enjoy!