Vintage Michigan Grocers Part 4 – Before Digital, Before Surveillance: 1880s-1950s
Okay, show of hands: how many of you worked in a supermarket when you were in school? (For those who actually raised their hands, put 'em back down...I can't really see you, ya know..)
I worked in one of the local supermarkets when I was 16 thru 18 years old. This was before surveillance cameras, digital checkouts, and electronic beepers that go off when you try to sneak something out the front door.
Working in a grocery store with fellow teens, you saw - and probably did – many things you would catch hell for if you were caught. For instance:
1) one of my fellow stock boys and I took one of those big tin cans that had a whole cooked chicken in it, went into the bathroom, and scarfed the whole thing down.
2) Beer would be set outside the back door – upon leaving work, you'd drive around to the back and pick it up.
3) Guys would grab a pop off the shelf, go into a walk-in cooler and drink it.
4) The guys would lock others in the freezers (just enough time to scare 'em).
5) Rotated stock wouldn't happen. It was quicker to just put stuff up on the shelves without pulling the older items to the front.
If you worked in a grocer as a teen, you know exactly what I'm talkin' about.
Then there were the odd customers. One old belligerent farmer came in one day and asked me, “You got any vy-enn?”
I had no clue what he was referring to. “Say that again, please.”
(Now he's getting perturbed:) “Vy-enn! Vy-enn!!!”
I had no idea what 'vy-enn' was or what the heck he was referring to, so after a minute of this I finally said “Nope. Don't have any.”
As I was walking away, I heard him say “well, here's some rat cheer (right here)” and I saw him reach up and grab a can of vienna sausage. Then I heard him sarcastically say to his wife “thet there boy needs an edgycation!”
Well, that made me see red...I was MAD. So I raced through the next aisle, stood right in front of him, shook my finger in his face and screamed “It's pronounced VEE-ENNA sausage, not VY-ENN!!! If you knew how to speak English, I 'd know what you meant!!!” and walked away, fuming. Luckily, he never said anything to management and was always nice to me every other time he came in. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I was right. Either way, don't refer to me as being stupid...it was an easy way to get me mad.
Finally, to end my teen grocery store career, some hotshot regional manager came in one day, struttin' down the aisles like he was something...like he was royalty. Well, he wasn't – he had a management title, yeah, but he was a real tool. He tells the manager to tell me to get a haircut. My hair wasn't even long, even by the standards of those days – it touched my ears but didn't cover them, it wasn't it front of my face, and there wasn't even much in the back. So I came in to work one Saturday and the manager says “come see me before you punch in.” So I did and asked what's up.
“Marv says you need to get a haircut, so you'll have to do that before you go back to work.”
“Oh, Marv says. I should've known.”
“So you'll either have to get a haircut or go find a new job.”
“Okay...(pause)...I'll go find a new job” and with that I walked out and quit....and found a new job.
I will say that our manager really was a good guy...not his fault. He didn't care about stuff like hair length; he was just doing what he was told. No animosity toward him whatsoever. Marv, on the other hand.....
Anyway. Since those days, grocers have changed. For better or worse? It's all in individual perspective. I had a good time in those two years and learned a lot. The photos in the gallery below show more Michigan grocers from wayyy before my time, going back from the 1880s to the 1950s.
More Vintage Michigan Grocers (Part 4)
MORE MICHIGAN MARKETS: