From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.

50 Years Have Brought Great Grocery Store Improvements

by William H. Owen

_____ 15, 1949

One can't help but notice the wonderful improvements which the past 50 years have made in our grocery stores.

Cellophane bags replaces the old wooden boxes. the files which constantly swarmed over the food in the grocery stores of yesteryear have taken their departure.

Too, the customers cannot sample the goods as they did in the long ago. I believe had the grocery store operators 50 years ago kept track of the stock they lost to cookie, cracker and cheese tasters, the sum would have been considerable.

My duty when I was ten years old, before and after school each day, was to get to the barn, when I curried the grocery store's Arabian pony and the team of horses, oiled the delivery wagon, and hitched the tam to the wagon. I recall it was covered with black canvas which never stayed buttoned.

The Arabian pony we hitched to a cart for delivering small articles.

After driving the horses to the front of the store, I would hitch them at the curb and go inside.

There was sweeping to be done. then I'd take the ashes out of the big stove, dust the shelves, open barrels and go into the cellar to draw sorghum or molasses.

When it was cold that was a job. The thick fluid wouldn't run from the big barrels in which it was kept.

And we dreaded the time to shovel potatoes and separate the good from the bad. The odor would nearly suffocate me.

I usually went to the barn by 5 AM, so after attending to all those store chores, it was time to set breakfast.

After breakfast I would start out with the pony and cart and take orders from the housewives. I recall those dear old women would never let their grocery boy leave until he'd had cookies or cakes of some such delicacy.

A winter I won't forget was the cold one of 1896. The front of that delivery wagon was entirely open, with no protection for the driver. The cold was intense--I remember it was 33 below zero, with the wind and snow blowing.

But some traveling man had told me to do, I put paper sacks over my socks, and found I didn't freeze my feet that way.

The people where I delivered food insisted that I come in and get warm.

Closing time in the grocery store of old was usually about 10PM, or even later.

The first question asked anyone making application for a grocery job in those days was about references. And the second: "Can you make a cornucopia?"

A cornucopia was a conoid formed of a sheet of paper by rolling it around the lower arm, slipping it so only a small opening remained at the bottom, and then folding the opening over.

It was a homemade sack in which we delivered many types of articles.

We never heard of cartons for eggs and seldom saw an egg case, for all our eggs came in from the country in baskets.

Most grocery stores 50 years ago had a meat market in connection with the store. Most of them also had a slaughter house somewhere on the edge of the city.

It was the store butcher's duty to kill the animals and prepare them for sale in addition to waiting on meat customers.

Many times I was sent to help the butcher at the slaughter house, and I didn't relish that job, either.

Despite all the talk to the contrary, I think today's younger generation, if it could look in on the grocery store of yesteryear, would be glad, in that respect at least, it is not living in "the good old days."

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