Grocery Clerk During the Depression Era

During the depression era, this Kansas woman worked as a grocery clerk; She describes how things were done back then.

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Sometimes as I shop for groceries in a large supermarket, I think back many, many years ago. Almost 50 in fact! During the depression era, I worked as a grocery clerk in a large (for Mayetta) grocery store. Mr. Jones was the owner, I was the only hired clerk, and together we would wait on seventy-five to one hundred families every Saturday night after the free picture show. We wrote each order down and got all the cans and supplies ourselves as the customer read off his or her list. No one thought of waiting on themselves as they do today. We had a cash register, but the only thing it was used for was keeping cash in. There was no way it would add up an order or tell you what change to give like the ones today. You did that in your head.

Very few wrote checks as most everyone paid with cash. I wonder now if the people who ring up your groceries would even know how to make change by themselves.

During the war we sold coffee, sugar, and even shoes. The only dry breakfast food in a box was Post Toasties, but not many of them were sold. Folks ate bacon, eggs, oatmeal, etc., for breakfast back then. We even took in eggs as cash. The eggs had to be counted and when folks had thirty dozen, that took some time! It was hard to keep one's mind on dozens of eggs when you were making change, taking rationing coupons, checking availability, and writing down the orders.

But I loved it. As the clerk I did the sweeping, dusting, keeping the windows clean, and I often put coal in the large stove that warmed the store.

I never thought I would see dog food, diapers, firewood, toilet paper and paper towels in a grocery store. Or the machines that tell customers what they have bought as the order is added up. I worked from 7 a.m. to sometimes 10:30 p.m. All this for $10.00 a week!

Alice R. Wamego
Holton, Kansas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.