Tag Archives: supermarkets

Grocery Stores, Yesterday and Today


What a difference a few years makes! (Well, more like fifty, but what’s a half a century between friends?)

Just after World War II, we moved to a little town in upstate New York from Ohio. I remember going with my parents to the Atlantic & Pacific (A&P) store in the business section in our new town. In those days, this was situated in a row of brick buildings which backed against the Finger Lake for which the place was named.  On Saturday, the store was crowded with people, who stood in a series of lines up to a counter. Behind the counter was a two story wall—at least, that’s how tall it seemed to me, filled with canned goods and boxes. There were a pair of ladders which could be moved back and forth against the wall, section to section, which were climbed by teenage helpers. When it was your turn at the counter, you presented a list to the shopkeeper, who, in turn, got a cardboard box from beneath the counter. He called the items to the boys, who fetched them, climbing up and down the ladders like monkeys, tossing cans of peas, corn, spinach, soup and beans into the shopkeeper’s hands. There were also a section devoted to boxed products, the few baking mixes that were available and a selection of cereals, ones like Quaker Oats, Post Toasties, Shredded Wheat and Wheaties.  (We ate Quaker Oats or Wheatena in the winter and switched to Wheaties in the brief upstate summers. Later, I remember the corrupting delight of summer bowls of Sugar Pops or Frosted Flakes.)

Along the back of the store there was a small refrigerated wall unit, but it didn’t hold much except iceberg lettuce and some milk, butter and margarine.  We went next door to the butcher shop for meat, and waited while a hunk of chuck was ground to burger. We didn’t “stock up” because the freezer compartment of our refrigerator—itself a modern miracle—wasn’t very large and often was frosted over. Mom wasn’t a devoted housekeeper, and she went shopping every couple of days, as needed, for perishable items like meat. (The only times we ate fish was if someone opened a sardine can, or if a someone caught a fish, or, once a year, when Mom went the through the ceremonial two day process of cooking a batch of salt cod. The milkman brought us glass bottles to our door in his truck. The milk, I remember, sometimes froze and popped the paper lids.  I also remember the revelation that came from eating fresh peaches, all juice and fuzz They were so very different from the taste of canned, which was almost everything we ate.

Last week, in the vegetable section of the supermarket, I noticed pre-chopped tubs of “mirepoix.”  I won’t even begin to ruminate on the culinary developments which have led American consumers to ask for that! To say the least, the “grocery store” has undergone some drastic changes during my life time.

~~Juliet Waldron


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