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Neighborhood Grocery Stores

Kenny Stallard

     During the 1940’s and early-1950’s, neighborhood grocery stores were fairly plentiful, usually in easy walking distance of several residences.  In the 1951 Kingsport City Directory, there were ten listings for Lynn Garden.  This is defining Lynn Garden as the north city limits sign on US 23, Gate City Highway then as the southern boundary.  This would be two or three hundred feet from Truxton Drive enters Lynn Garden Drive.  The northern boundary would be at the top of Kyle Hill on US 23, now Lynn Garden Drive, where Aesque Street intersects Lynn Garden Drive.  The eastern boundary would the top of Meade Hill on Gravely Road and the western boundary would at the end of Virgle Street at the present Midfield Market.

     Most of these stores would be considered fairly small by today’s standards.  Generally 25 to 30 feet wide and 30 to 40 feet deep.  Most would have well oiled wooden floors, a few may have been on cement slabs.  Many of the old store buildings still stand, being used for various purposes, some boarded up and slowly deteriorating, passing from memory.

     All the stores would have a soft drink container, usually of the cold water type, where the bottles would be placed and you would have to reach into the water, pulling out drink bottles, which would be dripping wet.  On the side of the drink box would be a bottle opener.  This was before the time of pop-tops and twist-off caps.  The bottle opener would pry off the cap and the cap would fall into a catch bin.

     You would find 6-oz. Cokes, 10-oz. Pepsis, 10-oz. RC Colas, 10-oz. Nehi brand in grape, orange and strawberry.  There were Grapetts and Orangetts, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, Orange Crush and Canada Dry Ginger Ale.  Most of these brands were in distinctive bottle shapes and/or colors.  Occasionally there would be locally bottled brands and flavors.

     The bread counters would be stocked with locally baked breads from bakery’s in Kingsport, Johnson City or Bristol; Hecht’s, Holsom, and Kerns.  There were none of the fancy breads of today; you had white, whole wheat and salt risen.  In some brands you could get the smaller round top loaves or the larger flat topped Pullman loaf.  You could get a basic dinner roll or a clover leaf roll.  There were hot dog and hamburger buns.  There would be an assortment of cakes, fried pies, fruit pies and cinnamon rolls, donuts and honey buns from the various bakeries.

     Canned goods from Stokley, Van Camp, Dole, Campbell, Armour and a few other brands stocked the shelves.  The offerings were not extensive, as most families did their large shopping once or twice a month at the larger supermarkets in Kingsport.  There were the basic snap beans, yellow corn, hominy, and greens.  Soups generally were tomato, vegetable and chicken noodle.  There would be canned pears, peaches and fruit cocktail.  You would find cans of Crisco Shortening, Armour and Clover brand lard.  Then the gift from WW II, Spam and Treat.  Choice of coffee was usually J.F.G, Maxwell House, Sanka, Chase and Sanborn and in a few stores Luzianne.

     The meat case in most stores was located in the back of the store and served as the deli center of the day.  There were not the large selections of cuts found today.  The neighborhood stores might have a roast or two, a few round steaks and hamburger meat.  Hamburger meat then was just ground beef, maybe purchased from a supplier, but often ground on-site from the roast or steaks that had not sold after a couple of days.  There might be a few pork cuts, tenderloin or pork chops and sausage.  There might be a chicken or two, usually whole, as packages of parts had not come into vogue.  Loaves of lunch meats were a large selling item of the meat case.  There was not the huge selections of the various types as found in today’s deli sections.  Everyone’s favorite, bologna, not the bland packaged Oscar Meyer® of today, but usually from an area packing house.  There would be spiced ham, pickle loaf, corn beef, boiled ham and liver cheese with it white halo of fat.  The cheese selection was basic, American cheese.  Milk was kept in the same cooler, normally just one brand in a store, Pet, Foremost or Southern Maid and bottled locally, pints and quarts.

     You would place your order with the clerk, usually by the number of slices you wanted.  The selection would be cut onto a piece of waxed paper, weighed, wrapped in white butcher paper and tied with twine or maybe sealed with cellophane tape.  The price would be marked on the wrapping with a lead or wax pencil.

     An ice cream box would prominent in the store, usually supplied by the dairy.  The largest container would be a round pint; there would be smaller containers, around 3 oz. in size.  Flavors were the basic vanilla, chocolate and strawberry.  Small wooden spoons in paper wrappers were available to eat the small containers on-site.  There were the chocolate covered ice cream bars, brown mule or brown bear.  Dreamcicles, a vanilla ice cream  and orange sherbert swirl bar was a favorite.  Push-ups, a paper cylinder of ice cream on a disk attached to a stick you would “push up” to the top to eat.  Finally, the popcicles, grape, strawberry, orange and banana.

          A few selves held cleaning supplies.  Wash powders, most brands no longer in existence; Duz, Rinso, Lux , Oxydol ,Ivory for a few and maybe a few bottles of bleach. There was not the large selection of dishwashing liquids found today, nor the multitude of variously scented aerosol cans of dusting spray, maybe a bottle of Johnson’s furniture polish.  Usually there would be a few straw brooms and a couple of cotton mops.

     The selection of fresh vegetable would be basic, potatoes, snap-beans, cabbage, onions and tomatoes in season.  There was not a large demand for these items, during this period as most people had a home garden or close neighbors with gardens willing to share their bounty.

     Candy counters were not large, sometimes just the boxes of candy bars or penny candies setting on a counter with other snack items; peanuts, peanut butter crackers, Moon pies and a few other goodies.

     The check out counter was usually located to one side of the entrance door with a manually operated cash register.  Behind the counter would usually be a cigarette shelf.  Stacks of packages of the popular brands of the time; Lucky Strike, Camel, Chesterfield, Spud, Wings, Raleigh.  If you wanted menthol, it was Kool.  It was generally in the early 1950’s before you could get a king size cigarette, Pall Mall.  All were unfiltered also until the 1950’s.  Bagged loose tobacco with rolling paper was Bull Durum.  Pocket tins of loose leaf, Prince Albert and Bugle were available.  One-pound tins of Prince Albert, Raleigh, Granger and Bugle could also be purchased.

      Medical items were usually somewhere in the neighborhood of the check out counter.  Bayer and St. Joseph aspirin, Anacin and Alka-Seltzer, Goody’s and Stanback  headache powder.  Vicks salve, Clover mentholatum and Vaceline petroleum jelly.  

     Items being purchased were collected on the counter and the store operator would write the cost on a brown Kraft paper bag and total the purchase.  They would then consult a tax table, usually taped to the side of the cash register and add this to the bill.  No scanner needed, the store operator could add and subtract with the best of men or women as the case may be.

     Most of the local stores gave credit, keeping a tab which would be paid weekly, bi-weekly or monthly depending on pay schedules.  The accounts would be kept in approximately 4x6 inch tablets with the family name written on top.  When a purchase was recorded, a carbon copy was given to the purchaser.  

 

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