I began working at Arthur's IGA store in North Lewisburg when I was 16 years old. It was a great job for a high school boy. It provided me with a much-needed income (at 85-cents per hour) at a time when I was learning that life could be expensive. While I maintained my paper route, it was occupying a great deal of my "after school" life, and not generating as much money as I thought necessary in my new-found status as a consumer. I suddenly wanted "things," and needed to generate more income in order to achieve them.
I'd rush home after school each day, change from my school clothes, and hop on my Lambretta motor scooter - I had progressed upward from my old Schwinn bicycle a couple of years before this - to quickly complete my newspaper route. Then, I'd either drive the Lambretta to my real job at Arthur's, or park it at home to walk the few blocks from home - we lived beside the old high school building at this time - to the store on Sycamore Street in the town's "commercial district."
I'd get to the back storage area of the store, grab my fresh, clean full-length clerk's apron, and find out what my duties were to be for that night. Generally, on Tuesday evenings, I'd remove the previous week's sale posters from the store's front windows, and then wash the glass inside and out before posting the new banners for the week. Other duties followed, primarily consisting of restocking the shelves with merchandise with intermittent stops to bag and carry out some patron's groceries.
Retocking the shelves was a multi-tasking chore. It usually involved two stockboys, working in tandem. My good buddy Mike Chamberlain, or Bob Impson, or Larry Foster, or Robert Short - or whoever was part of the designated restocking time that night - would take up one of two duty positions. One worker would walk the store's aisles, as the second worker in the back storage area would call out the product to be checked on the shelves. The floor-walker would shout out the number of cans, bags, canisters, or boxes of the product which were needed to refill that spot on the shelves. The guy in the backroom would load that quantity of products into a grocery cart. When the cart was filled, it would be wheeled out through the store's swinging storage room doors and onto the floor for distribution to the appropriate shelves. This was a quick process, and was generally confined to one particular area of the store at a time or on a designated evening. For example, the guy in the backroom might be busy getting down all of the containers of cereal boxes from the top loft. He'd call out the product, and the floor worker would call back the number of boxes of Rice Krispies, Life, or Quaker Oats which were necessary to fill the shelves.
At another time, or on another evening, the area of choice might well be the canned goods. In this situation, the backroom was filled with half-cases of canned goods which were stacked from floor to ceiling in neat rows. Working from the top down, the backroom worker would pull down a half-case (the original cases had been modified by the use of a handheld box cutter blade to hold 12-24 cans of products). That guy would then shout out the name of the product (Campbell's Tomato Soup), the floor worker would shout back the number of cans needed, and the backroom worker would put that number of cans into the grocery cart. The guy on the floor merely had to run around the aisle and quickly count. The poor guy in the backroom had to be a little more cautious in what he was doing - he had to carefully extract the half-cases from the stacks, moving across the rows. If he pulled all of the half-cases from one stack before moving on to the next, the subsequent stacks were prone to tip sideways and fall over.
Yet another night might be devoted to restocking the laundry detergents, household cleaners, and so forth. Or, canned and bagged dog food. Or any of the other thousands of products which filled the store's aisles.
On top of all of this restocking, there was the weekly resupply truck - a semi loaded with boxes and bags of products to keep the store fully stocked. Each week Tom and Evelyn Arthur hosted special sales, with greatly reduced prices on particular items. One week, the specials might be canned tomato soup (10 cents per can), or 5-pound bags of sugar (39 cents), or seven loaves of white bread ($1.00). Another week, the specials might include flour, or liquid bleach, or laundry detergent. The store printed and mailed a flyer to area patrons for the "specials" of the week. As a result, the store was one of the busiest in town - especially on Fridays and Saturdays when most area people did their shopping.
Tom and Evely Arthur were great bosses. Tom was generally gruff, detail-oriented, and totally committed to providing customer satisfaction. He was a real task master, but also had a great sense of humor and truly appreciated a good joke, or prank. Evelyn was a bit more serious; there was little frivolity while she was supervising the store. While she normally manned one of the two cash registers at the front of the store, she would occasionally walk the aisles and check to see that all of the clerks were earning their pay.
At Thanksgiving, the Arthurs were the most-generous of people to their employees (and to a lot of other people throughout the community). Each worker usually received a turkey, or a ham (or sometimes, both) as well as other foodstuffs for the table. Tom and Evelyn hosted a Christmas party at their home for the employees, and distributed nice gifts to each of us. They also invited everyone to their home on New Year's Day, so we could watch the Rose Bowl Parade and game on their color television - one of the few in town at that time.
I can close my eyes and picture Tom standing at the front of the store, black trousers and white, long-sleeve shirt, and full-length apron. He generally held an unlit cigarette in one hand, a wooden match in the other, always looking like he was ready to strike the match and light the cigarette (which he rarely ever did!). I once asked him about his long-sleeve shirt. He confided to me that he had once had some tattoos added to his arms, but he was now a bit embarassed for the public to see them. As a result, he kept them covered with those neatly-starched, pressed long sleeves. (A trivia tidbit: his full name was Thomas Jefferson Arthur, named by his parents for the former president. He had a younger brother, Theodore Roosevelt Arthur).
The Arthurs' son Tommy was the store's butcher, and managed the meat department. He was ably assisted by Christine Quinton, who was responsible for packaging the chicken, beef, pork, and other products in plastic-wrap. It was an efficient, clean, and busy area of the store. Folks in the town and outskirts consumed a great deal of meat which they purchased at Arthur's IGA.
Don Woodruff was a jack-of-all-trades who helped to manage the store each evening and on Saturdays. He worked during the day for the County Highway Department (eventually becoming the superintendent of highways before his retirement), but I truly think he liked the grocery business even more. He had an outgoing way about him which appealed to customers - and fellow workers - alike. He had a one-in-a-million sense of humor, full of jokes and pranks, and truly enjoyed a good laugh. He was knowledgeable about every part of the store, and could easily fill in for any task when called upon. He was a joy to work with (and has remained a dear friend for over half a century).
"Ham" (nickname for Mr. Hamilton) was in charge of the produce department. He ordered and maintained all of the fresh fruits and vegetables to be found in the store. He was a conscientious man, dignified in his appearance and demeanor, and proud of his responsibilities. The produce department was always clean, neatly organized, and well-maintained. Fruits and vegetables were proudly displayed, and were literally the best that money could buy for the time.
The worker-bees of the store were the stockboy/clerks. Tom and Evelyn employed several teenage boys during their many years of operating the store. In most cases, their jobs there were the first wage-earning responsibilities those young men ever had. The work provided income for clothes, school expenses, entertainment, car payments, insurance premiums, and all of their other needs. Most opened their first charge accounts at Artur's IGA. Tom and Evelyn kept small, retail sales books for each regular customer and all of their employees. When we needed a candy bar, or soda, or ice cream to take home and enjoy, Tom or Evelyn would record the purchase in our account books. At the end of the week - Saturday - when we each drew our wages, we'd "settle up" by paying off our accounts. Money in hand, we'd leave the store for the weekend's adventures.
There are many memories of my life in a grocery cart - the three years I worked at Arthur's IGA. There will be more tales to tell in stories yet to come in this blog.