Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Pencil Behind My Ear,By Evelyn Taylor

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


Sue Kinsella said...

Whew! Can you imagine most of today's cashiers being able to do something like this? I often run into cashiers who, even when they have all the addition and totals done for them, STILL have trouble making change!

And service - it seems that the policy at all our local Safeways is to not open another cashier stand until there are lines of 5 or more people at every other one. No amount of reading my name off my check, pretending to know me, can make up for what a drag on my time that is.

However, the picture of Eve and Dene delivering groceries does remind me of my one (so far) experience with internet grocery shopping. When I broke my ankle and couldn't drive, I decided to try ordering groceries online.

Safeway was the only option available, so I had some trepidation about it. I spent an hour on their website one night, and next afternoon a big truck pulled up to my door and the driver cheerfully brought in a whole bunch of bins with good-looking vegetables and just about everything that had been on my list.

It was like having my own personal shopper, and when he saw that I was in a wheelchair, he even offered to put the groceries away for me in the refrigerator! I didn't need him to do that because a friend was coming over who could help me, but I was impressed. So maybe a tiny bit of that personal service still survives.

Anonymous said...

I can remember that store and always loved it!!And Uncle Leon who had a store in Batavia had a spray in his store that covered his vegetables and kept them fresh. Today, at Wegmans I see that same spray and wonder if what goes round comes round!

Pat Kinsella said...

I would love to step back in time and push open the door into that superette!

Some stores in New England small towns still have the pickle barrel and old wooden planks for flooring, with the candy counter filled with twizzlers and red hots, but they are a find when you stumble across them.

Today, it is a beautiful sunny day with a hint of autumn to come--a perfect day to climb a mountain. But, instead, I headed off to our favorite apple orchard in town.

Deciding between Golden Ginger and their new variety, Elstar (decided upon Elstar once I was told it was crunchy, sweet AND sour--GREAT apple!!), I was delighted to see my 'friend' who often tends the stand. She has been here now three autumns, coming from Brazil with no English the first time we met. Her English now is by no means perfect--too old for school--but very good; she always has a smile and tastes of all of the apples and peaches for me.

So, yes, service IS still here, but you certainly have to enjoy it when you have it--buying bathroom towel bars at Lowe's last night was quite the adventure with the self-service counter. Of course, I took things OUT of the bag too soon and then did not put them back in fast enough--LUCKILY, a real live PERSON was nearby and helped check me out. WHEW!!