Why I miss the old corner store

Do you remember shopping, before the days of the Supermarket, when even department stores were something of a rarity? We bought everything we needed on a day-to-day basis at the old corner store, local grocers, butchers, greengrocers and newsagents in those days, closely followed by the hardware store (or ‘ironmongers’ as they were called then), shoe shop and outfitter. There really wasn’t much else!


The old corner store - starts at sixty


How uncompetitive they must have been, compared to today’s slick outlets where the only motive is profit, instead of service. They try to convince us that all this modern ‘efficiency’ is for the benefit of the customer, but somehow, although prices are undoubtedly a lot lower than they would be with the old system, I doubt if customers are as happy as they were before. No, in the long run, it’s all done today for the convenience of the supermarket, not the customer!

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Only we oldies will remember the grocer’s store of old, where the “little housewife” sat in a cane chair at the counter, dictating to the person serving her, what her requirements were, while he or she rushed about all over the place, cutting slabs of butter from a large, unprotected block, lowering a side of bacon from its hook near the ceiling and putting it through the hand-driven slicer, so the lady could take home her dozen rashers.

Only we can recall the large open topped sack of sugar near the wall, or the square tins of biscuits, from which a whole variety could be selected, almost one biscuit of each if that was what was wanted. Then, as each item was picked and sliced and cut, the grocer had to individually wrap them all, usually in crisp white paper, and place them neatly on the marble-topped counter, before licking the end of his pencil and jotting down the price, then moving on to the next.

This ritual, (or ones very similar to it), was carried on in most of the other shops in the high street too. There were always enough staff on hand to see that no customer was kept waiting too long either, so that each shop often had at least as many people serving as there were buying! How different from today’s enormous establishments, where rather than more staff, there are less! And just try to find one when you have a query or a complaint – there is, quite often, literally no one to be seen at all, and if you do see someone they often seem much too engrossed in conversations with fellow staff to be bothered with mere customers!

Another enormous change has taken place in what we now call the pharmacist, though they were called chemists in those far off days, because chemists they were! Then you could buy all sorts of chemicals, with no questions asked, from sulphuric acid to the makings for gun powder (salt petre, sulphur and carbon), all kept around the store in glass or stoneware jars, on shelves that stretched right up to the ceiling. Chemists mixed most of the concoctions specified by local doctors themselves then, stuff that wouldn’t find shelf space anywhere but a Chinese herbalist today!

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Today’s pharmacists are really little more than ordinary shop-keepers, selling products bought in from massive drug manufacturers, though they are medically trained, to know how the drugs they are selling should be used. I would guess today’s pharmacist sells more cosmetics and patent medicines than anything else. At least most of their drugs are now effective, which I would hazard a guess is more than could be said about many of the concoctions that preceded them!

As I said earlier, I suppose we are better off financially today, because of supermarkets, department stores, large pharmacies and all the rest, but I still miss the way I was looked after in the days just after the last war – if only we could afford them!

Do you prefer the supermarkets of today? Or do you miss the value we had in good customer service?