A few scant decades ago, shopping was different than it is now. Back then we had semi-weekly visits from The Bread Man and The Milk Man. They brought us various consumables, produced locally but without storefronts to sell them.
We’d leave a note saying how many bottles of milk we wanted. I think that was all that was delivered. Milk. Whole milk with the cream in it, which rose to the top and got scooped off to use for coffee. There was no such thing as Half ‘n Half.
The Bread Man left mushy white bread which wasn’t too much different from the stuff they sell today. Sometimes we’d get sweet rolls, which were a special treat reserved for weekends.
We shopped at Pat Kayes Grocery, which was a small establishment on West State Street. There was a butcher shop in back and a few shelves of staples. Everyone knew your name when you went in, since there were lots of small grocery stores in the area and everyone had a favorite that they patronized.
Typical grocery stores in the ’50’s (Market Basket and A&P but, alas, no picture of Pat Kayes Grocery).
Here is what was known as a “Super” market in the 1950’s.
There were no coupons then, so customers were loyal and we went to Kayes for years, until The Big Grocery Store moved in. These were wonderful to us, with aisle after aisle of boxes and cans, and produce and meats, and freezers full of things we’d never seen. And big round automatic revolving conveyor belts that you put the items on. A cashier picked up each item and tap tapped in the price and put it on another belt to be moved to a guy who put the things in brown paper bags. Wow, that was progress.
Pat Kayes Grocery suffered for that and disappeared after trying to compete with The Big Grocery Store.
We visited The Cake Shop weekly too, and it lasted a bit longer than the Mom and Pop grocery stores. Baked goods of all kinds, cookies, cakes, pies, éclairs, lady fingers and coffee cake rings. Over the years we tried everything and loved it all. They used to give kids a chocolate chip cookie when their mothers made a purchase.
When you needed prescription drugs you went to a drugstore. Not a grocery store or any other kind of store. There was a pharmacy at the back, and revolving racks of drug store items in the middle, racks of magazines and newspapers in the front and along the side, a long counter where we bought flavored cokes (vanilla, cherry, chocolate) and root beer floats.
There was even a separate store for bras, girdles, and corsets. It was called Woodward Corset Shop and I went in there with my mother and grandmother sometimes when they bought those strange undergarments. I used to look up at the dummies wearing their brassieres (which were really big in those days) and girdles and none of them had any heads. They sat on poles or shelves. I figured they had no heads because if they did, they’d be embarrassed at being seen in their underwear.
Here’s Woodward’s to the right of the movie theater:
Shopping was a big deal back then. We got dressed up. We went from store to store, saw people we knew. It was social. The stores were open at 10:00 AM and closed at 9:00 PM. Closed on Sundays.
Through the sixties and seventies we saw larger department stores emerge, and the specialized dress shops and bra shops and hat shops disappeared. The Cake Shop went under, and of course Woodward Corset Shop did too. It was the age of The Big Department Store, and they sold a lot of good stuff and they had window displays and sometimes they had escalators! We no longer knew the people who waited on us, and it wasn’t quite as social any longer. We only talked to the people we were with.
This was our largest department store back then, Bradner’s.
In the eighties and nineties we saw the rise of K-Mart, and Wal-Mart and Target. Now The Big Department Stores are in trouble too, because many people would rather buy everything in one place. We never saw the same person twice at the checkout, and it was a rarity to run into anyone we knew.
Today, we still have department stores in malls but a lot of them have tanked. There are a few smaller places, like J Crew, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch, but these all have the same merchandise, and it comes from China, or Taiwan, or Burma, or Bangladesh, or, well, you get the picture.
And we no longer dress up. Now we don’t care what we look like when we go out to a public place. Take a look at the website www.peopleofwalmart.com, which is devoted to pictures of people seen in Wal-Marts across the country.
I don’t personally see them, because it would take a natural disaster where Wal-Mart was the only store left standing for me to venture into one. But I trust that if you wanted to waste a lot of time in any Wal-Mart in any city, you could find pretty much the same sightings.
This is a sampling of shoppers at Wal-Mart.
Sometimes, I’d like shopping to go back to the way it was back then, something to be anticipated. Now it’s just another thing to get done.
Gotta go to Wal-Mart. I need cheap work shoes, and a few Big Johnson tee shirts, and the latest romance novel, and Cheez Whiz is two for the price of one, and I could use some ammo.