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The ‘Super Market’: Eat your heart out

May 1940. “The ‘super market’ in Durham, North Carolina.” Back when self-service groceries were enough of a novelty that photographers put the name for them in quote marks.

Bargains? Well, let’s check those prices.

Steak 25cents a pound? Yes indeed.

Pickles 2 pounds for 25 cents plus juice and napkins for a nickel each.

2 (make that two!) pounds of tomatoes for 13 cents. Bring cash. Debit cards just slow thing down.

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  • gwbnyc May 7, 2022, 5:01 PM

    hmmm… a shorping center.

  • tallowpot May 7, 2022, 5:33 PM

    I had a number of railroad switchmen’s and also firemen and engineers pay schedules for about those years. They ranged from about $6.00/100 miles to $10.00/100 miles. (generally 12.5 miles/hour).
    Those were high paying jobs!

    • gwbnyc May 8, 2022, 7:00 AM

      I worked for conrail in the 70’s and found some old records in a back building showing piece work rates per rivet. 1940’s?

  • Gordon Scott May 7, 2022, 6:03 PM

    When the concept of the self-service market was introduced, they hired models to roll the shopping carts around the store. It was the only way to get shoppers to use them. And these were quite small compared to the large heavy-duty models in stores today. Today a cart can carry groceries and a teenager in the basket. And people do that.

  • Cris May 7, 2022, 6:05 PM

    I want to know what a “Home Killed Fryer” is. Surely they weren’t selling live chickens?!

    • steveaz May 7, 2022, 7:01 PM

      I had the same question: What is “home-killed?” Are home-butchers selling their home-grown meats in a grocery store?

      No USDA stamp? How did we live? /SARC

      • jwm May 7, 2022, 7:20 PM

        Glad I didn’t have to live in such cheap and dangerous times. Just look at a package of New, Improved! thoroughly modern chicken parts from Foster Farms. You’ve got a couple of paragraphs of nutritional stats, health hazards, and safety warnings printed on the back. They didn’t have those back in the “Home Killed”days. Take the fifteen minutes or so it takes to read those instructions. They may save your life. Did you know that you should NEVER just depend on knowing when chicken is done? No, that’s dangerously dangerous. You must use a meat thermometer to ensure that the meat is ALL THE WAY UP to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m looking at some digital thermometers from China on Amazoo. They have alarms, and everything. One can never be too safe.


    • Auntie Analogue May 7, 2022, 8:44 PM

      In the 1950’s my Mom or Grandma took the pre-teen me by the hand, walked three blocks to a chicken market on a city side street. In a stack of cages were live chickens whose cacophonic clucking made one hell of a racket. Mom or Grandma chose a chicken and one of the men behind the counter removed it from the cage and, standing behind the counter glass, with an expert blow from a cleaver, beheaded it on a chopping block right in front of us. Before the headless fowl had stopped moving the man wrenched the bird around and around in the maw of a machine whose loudly whirring rotors plucked almost all of the feathers. Then the man deftly gutted the chicken, with his hands scooped out its intestines and other inedible organs which he plopped into a galvanized steel garbage pail (I remember peering into the pail to gaze in wonder at a mass of squirming, seemingly ever-settling chicken guts). Next the man immersed the carcass, for some long seconds, in a big steaming metal vat of boiling water, then withdrew it and expertly wielded cleaver and knife to dismember to order, dress to order, and wrap the chicken in brown butcher paper.

      At home Mom or Grandma manipulated the whole chicken or chicken parts, turning them round and round to find and pluck, or to burn off over the gas range burner flame, the few remaining feathers.

      How we survived eating fresh-killed chicken must remain a mystery.

      My uncle raised chickens and in front of me, my brother, and my uncle’s own children, with a bird clenched between his knees and the head in his grip, he beheaded it with three or six strokes of a knife, released the headless bird inside his pen’s chicken wire fence and let it run about willy-nilly until it stopped moving. My aunt plucked the chicken, boiled it for a few minutes to kill surface bacteria, then prepared it for roasting or frying, or for potting to make chicken soup.

      And my Grandma’s chicken soup, made with freshly killed chicken, was the best and, in my experience, remains unequalled.

      • gwbnyc May 8, 2022, 7:08 AM

        when I was first in NYC there was a live poultry place, the NW corner of Thompson and Bleecker streets. You smelled it before you saw it.

      • hooodathunkit May 8, 2022, 7:42 AM

        Funny how memory works. To refresh yours, you need to scald before plucking, a forgivable lapse of recollection. And yes, the Whizbang Feather Plucker is a godsend of modern engineering. Also using a kill-funnel, seen in the background of a pre-Thankgiving video made by Sarah Palin, keeps poultry from flopping all over the place.

        No domesticated animal eats ‘naturally’, but backyard poultry comes close to it and consequently has a far different flavor than those fed ‘the cheapest way to make them gain weight’.

        • Auntie Analogue May 8, 2022, 10:24 AM

          My dear hoodathunkit, thank you for clarifying my memory of the sequence of the chicken market’s procedures. Good catch!

  • ghostsniper May 7, 2022, 6:29 PM

    Those prices would be the same today if not for that thieving assed gov’t.
    Balogna 15 cents a pound.
    Today, about 300 cents a pound – 20 times as much.
    Where’d it all go?

    • Mike Austin May 7, 2022, 6:38 PM

      As Milton Friedman wrote, “Inflation has been everywhere in every case caused by government actions.”

    • Mike Anderson May 7, 2022, 8:08 PM

      Look at it the other way ’round. You can get a lot more money for the same old baloney these days. And we call it the Information Age.

      • ghostsniper May 8, 2022, 4:56 AM

        Now THAT was funny, Anderson. (so I don’t confuse you with Austin)

  • Hale Adams May 7, 2022, 8:23 PM


    I get it — I’m inclined to think that “real” money is gold and silver coin, or at least greenbacks freely exchangeable for gold and silver.

    The problem is that the pool of goods and services is (over the long haul) always expanding. If the prices of these goods and services were fixed-in-place over the course of many decades, and if the price of gold and silver was also fixed, we would need vast quantities of gold and silver (perhaps more than is available to mine in the Earth’s crust) to make into coins to serve the economy, to allow the markets to function.

    If the limits of precious metals available to us has an upper bound that we’re crowding pretty hard, and if the price per ounce is fixed, then it follows that deflation would set in. That was pretty much what our great-grandparents were experiencing in the late 19th Century — that’s when the arguments for the free coinage of silver were so widespread, and those experiences were what gave Bryan’s “Cross of Gold” speech such power.

    One of the lessons our grandparents (mine were born in the 1890s) learned in the 1930s is that a persistent deflation is a recipe for disaster. Look at the CPI in the 1920s and ’30s, and you will see that the general price-level collapsed by about 30 to 40 percent in the space of just three years, from 1930 to 1933. We can argue about the root causes of the Great Depression (my own favorite is the Smoot-Hawley tariff), but the fact is that the money supply shrank drastically — in some places, people were reduced to barter because the was no money to be had.

    (My father, born in 1927, could remember farmers in the ’30s coming to my grandfather, who was a small-town doctor, and asking if they could pay a small bill for, say, three dollars, with a dozen bushel baskets of apples, for example. Grandpa would ask Grandma to look at the apples: “Verna, are these apples worth $3 to you?” Dad said that you could see the gears turning in her head as she sized up the apples for her family’s consumption or as trading material, and she would turn to Grandpa and say, “Yes, Amos, those are worth $3.” Grandpa would take the bill for $3 from the farmer, and write “Paid in Full” on the bill.

    (Another time, a farmer showed up at Grandpa’s office with a shotgun. “Doc,” said the farmer, “I ain’t got the money to pay this bill for twenty-five bucks. Will you take this shotgun instead?” Grandpa looked the shotgun over, decided it was a nice piece, and wrote “Paid in Full” on the man’s bill.

    (There was simply NO MONEY to be had.)

    Yes, high inflation (more than, say, 4 or 5 percent a year) sucks. But you have to have a small (0 to 2 percent) rate of inflation if you’re to allow the economy to work, to give it the “wiggle room” to avoid nasty bouts of deflation (again, look at the ’30s). The problem right now is that we have a “ruling class” (or so they imagine themselves to be) who confuse dollars with wealth, and think the more dollars they print, the wealthier the country is. (Some of the “ruling class” aren’t so stupid, of course, they’re just along for the ride in a cynical bid for power.) And so we are in for a rough time of it under Their Fraudulencies, Biden and Harris.

    (I’m willing to cut the-powers-that-were in the ’70s some slack — the old men running the show at the Federal Reserve back then were young men in the ’30s, and were likely deathly afraid of a repeat of the catastrophic deflation they had to live through. Unfortunately, they erred too far in the other direction — 15% inflation isn’t very good for economies, either.)

    (And I’m sorry, Gerard, for running off at the keyboard, again.)

    So, Ghost, I sympathize — there’s something comforting about the heft of a “Walking Liberty” half-dollar or a “Morgan” dollar. But they’re gone, and they’re not coming back. And it’s not because of “theft” — it’s almost a question of physics. There just ain’t enough gold and silver to use as coins at any price-per-ounce that is close to what our parents and grandparents knew.

    As usual, my two cents’ worth.

    Hale Adams
    Pikesville, People’s still-mostly-Democratic Republic of Maryland

    • Vanderleun May 8, 2022, 7:12 AM

      Run off all you want, Hale. It’s always valuable. You’ll see.

    • ghostsniper May 8, 2022, 2:01 PM

      I didn’t mention gold or silver, but I get your point. I don’t have a problem with federal reserve notes either. What’s been going on since 1913 is far beyond that and why we’re in the shape we are now. Funny, I believe a crash will occur in the near future and the baseline will be available gold and silver regardless of how many people are alive. Maybe the population will shrink to fit the amount of available precious metals?

  • Snakepit Kansas May 8, 2022, 6:12 AM

    I have grown weary of people misusing the word “literally”. It has become as common as a gay airline attendant and lost its face value sense of meaning.

    Tremendously, people that commonly start their sentences with the word “so”, are unimaginative. Be creative and try using “therefore” or “henceforth”. It may be equally incorrect, but at least creative.

    Happy Mother’s Day to those living and fond memories of one’s from our past.

    • gwbnyc May 8, 2022, 7:11 AM

      aye, that.

      try a history of “Well, “. Then maybe “Hwat!”.

    • Mike Austin May 8, 2022, 8:48 AM

      As a grammar Nazi, I have many pet peeves. One of my “Top Ten” is using a modifier for the adjective “unique”, as in this sentence: “It was very unique.” Ugh. Unique:

      1. being without a like or equal
      2. distinctively characteristic
      3. able to be distinguished from all others of its class or type

      Something is either unique or it is not. It cannot be “quite unique” or “somewhat unique”. In a similar manner, a woman cannot be “a little pregnant”. A woman is either pregnant or she is not.

      I am all for creativity in using the English language. But to write English effectively one must practice and read, practice and read, and then practice and read. If one desires to write Argumentative or Expository Essays, then a course in Logic is absolutely necessary.

      Here endeth the lesson. For now.

      • ghostsniper May 8, 2022, 10:24 AM

        Seinfeld had an episode about “big” coincidences.
        The argument was that all coincidences are devoid of size and there are no big ones.

        • Mike Austin May 8, 2022, 12:03 PM

          Yep. Good catch. I’ll include it in my list of pet grammar peeves.

  • John the River May 8, 2022, 9:46 AM

    At seven or eight years old my family visited the Danish cousins in NH. A real farm with chickens, which was very exciting for a boy from the suburbs.
    I followed my Danish aunt around, watching her and carrying stuff for her, feed and baskets. Helped pick the green beans off the stalks and tried to draw water from the pump (that was tough).
    Then I followed her out into the chicken yard until she stopped and reached down to grab a chicken by the neck. Which she snapped quicker than it takes to tell, and she walked back to the kitchen plucking feathers. I got sick onto the ground in the chicken yard, which amused everybody.
    The chicken for dinner was delicious though. Roasted basted with Danish butter.

  • lpdbw May 8, 2022, 11:05 AM

    *But they’re gone, and they’re not coming back.*
    In anticipation of the hard times and famine approaching, I just increased my holdings of physical silver coins, which are not, contrary to Hale’s observations, entirely gone. In fact, many people including governments are minting new ones, like the American Silver Eagle 1 ounce coin. The exchange rates was in the neighborhood of $20 FRN to $1 face value silver dimes.

    So 1 silver dime translates to $2. Re-read those prices in those terms and they make more sense. In fact, some of those items that require more handling were relatively more expensive than today, even accounting for the extreme weakness of our current dollar. Due, I expect, to mechanization, economy of scale, and improvements in transportation. And vast quantities of illegal immigrant labor.