Years ago a grocery clerk always had a pencil parked behind an ear. This was to take orders and add up columns of prices of items purchased.
My introduction to this job was at Taylor’s Superette in Le Roy during World War II in 1944. My father-in-law, D. Floyd Taylor, made his Main St. grocery store into a combination of full-service and self-service before supermarkets had become common.
There was no scanner of bar code or cash registers that printed a detailed account of items and told the cashier what change to give. It was necessary to be able to add long columns of prices and to make correct change. The latter required counting the change out loud to the customer. If the bill was $3.79 and a $5 bill was given, you counted the $1.21 change by saying: $3.79- 10cents is $3.89, 10 cents is $3.99,1 cent is $4.00 and 1$ is $5.00.
In the meantime, to insure there was no chance of the customer saying she had given you a larger bill than the five dollars, you placed the $5 bill on the ledge of the cash register until the change had been made and then it was placed in the drawer.
A clerk needed to be able to add long columns of items quickly. You put the prices on a large paper bag and added the column twice—adding down and then adding up. Hopefully, the results were the same.
Math was also important when you weighed an item for the customer as it was up to you to figure out what ¾ of a pound would be if a pound cost $1.79. There were no automatic scales that spitted out a printed label with weight and final price on it.
The clerk helped people find items on the shelves, weighed up bulk cookies and fresh produce, cut cheese from a large cheese wheel, cut butter from a large round of butter and weighed them. Then the clerk became the cashier for that customer.
And because this store was in a village and rural area, farmers came in on Saturday night to shop and share news of the week. They would bring in their baskets of eggs for credit, and the duty of counting them carefully was the clerk’s. Saturday night was busy and lively with talk of weather, crops, and news.
There was personal interaction between the customer, store- owner, and clerks. You knew the customers by name and did everything possible to help and please them. Much has been lost in the transition from the era of Taylor’s Superette to the electronic supermarket of today’s Wegmans.
Picture One: Eve and Dene Taylor, Delivering groceries in 1945