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Food For Thought

I remember the days when there was always a sign near the cash register at the grocery store that said CASH AND CARRY. As a child, I thought that meant that you had to pay CASH for your groceries and CARRY them out to the car yourself. At least, that’s what happened when I went to the store with my mother. She handed the grocer her list, he gathered up the items and figured the total while we waited. He’d pack them all into a brown paper bag or a cardboard box and we were on our way. Sometimes Mother paid him and sometimes he wrote it all down in a little tablet. Then, I noticed that, sometimes, she would send me to the store for a loaf of bread and a pound of lunch meat and I didn’t have to pay because the grocer wrote down my purchases in his little tablet.
After a while, I learned that “carry” meant that you could charge the groceries and my dad would pay later. This led to a faintly larcenous period of my life when I developed the habit of buying myself a Baby Ruth candy bar or Eskimo Pie and saying, ”charge it.” It didn’t take me long to learn that this was apparently okay as long as I’d been sent to pick up bananas or milk, or butter on the charge account, but not okay if all I did was stop in after school for a treat for myself.
There was a time during the war when Dad was away in the Air Force and Mother wasn’t always able to get to the store for an order of groceries that was too much for one of us girls to carry the several blocks to our house. On those occasions, someone would deliver the groceries to our kitchen door. Sometimes, it was the grocer himself, sometimes a high school boy on a bicycle, other times, a neighbor on his way home.
About that same time, the A&P and Jack & Jill stores came to my home town and we always paid for the groceries when we got them. There were no signs saying CASH AND CARRY posted by the cash registers, but the “carry-out boy” always took your groceries out to your car for you. Another big change came with the advent of wheeled shopping carts. The idea that I could stroll up and down the aisles of the store and put all my selections into the cart gave me a heady sense of lavishness– as if I could have anything I wanted just by putting it into the cart. Quite often, I embarrassed myself by selecting more than Mother had asked me to buy and, finding the total cost was more than the money she had given me, I had to meekly ask the clerk to take back the Hostess Cupcakes, the bag of Planter’s Peanuts, and the Wrigley’s Spearmint gum I’d added to the list.
In the beginning of the self-serve shopping cart era, the check-out girl unloaded the items from the cart and rang each item up separately on the cash register. Then, someone invented a cart with a drop-down front that fit right up against the end of the counter, making it easier and much faster for the cart to be unloaded. These carts, of necessity, were much shallower and compensated for the lack of depth by becoming wider and longer until they became quite unwieldy to manage while traversing the narrow aisles. The solution seemed obvious, make the aisles wider. In order to do that, shelf space had to be sacrificed. Bigger stores were the answer to that dilemma. Then, more items to fill that new space, and bigger carts so the customer had room for all those additional choices. The carts became bigger yet, electronic scanning made punching so many keys on the cash register unnecessary. Conveyor belts put the items within easy reach, the customer was now required to unload the cart himself, and a “bagger” put the groceries into bags, saving the check-out girl that final step in the process. Result: less work for the clerk, more work for the customer, and guess who has to wait for the other to finish!
Shopping for one, I find those huge, double-decker carts impossible to maneuver around the store, so was delighted to see the new, smaller carts which are usually adequate for my shopping trips. These carts aren’t too deep for me to get the groceries out once I get to the check-out. And if I have a lot of heavy groceries, I can request to drive up for them or wheel the cart out to the parking lot myself. A friend, who works in Cedar Rapids and often shops there, told me that some stores there won’t let customers take the smaller carts to the parking lot to unload their own groceries without a DEPOSIT to insure the return of the cart! I guess they think somebody might take the cart home with them. Possible, I suppose, though I can’t think of much use for one in a house with stairs, door sills, doors that don’t open by themselves, thick carpets, and other obstacles. Even so, there’s a better way to prevent customers from making off with the shopping carts. WHY NOT CARRY THE GROCERIES OUT AND PUT THEM IN THE CAR FOR THEM?