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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grocery Shopping

Image courtesy of the J Willard MArriot library University of Utah

When I was young in Shelley, Idaho, shopping was easy. What we didn’t produce, we purchased at the only food store in town, “Crook’s Food Center,” a small corner grocery store owned and operated by Niles Crooks, a member of our church congregation. You could fit his entire store in a couple of aisles of a modern grocery store. While he carried all the basics, the variety of his inventory was usually limited to one type of each product. My uncle ran his produce section. I don’t remember the name of Nile’s butcher. 

Niles gave my parents credit to buy groceries during the growing season and we paid the bill when we sold our wheat and potatoes. He issued Gold Strike trading stamps for our purchases and I licked and pasted the stamps into the books which my mother would accumulate and redeem for a small kitchen appliance each year. Niles gave mom credit for all the coupons she clipped from magazines, whether she bought the product or not, as long as he carried the item in his store.

One of my biggest decisions each week was what type of breakfast cereal to pick. Mom always let me decide and I chose the one with the best prize inside.  Honeycomb had a promotion where you could send in box tops for plastic cowboy and Indian figures. My family got tired of Honeycomb. When Huntsman’s Supermarket opened in Shelley, my mother stayed with Niles. He had earned her patronage. Even with two choices of where to shop, shopping remained simple.

Today, shopping is complex.  The closest thing we had to Crook’s Food Center, Boonsboro Produce, sold out when a Weis grocery chain store moved in across the street a few years ago. We have no allegiance to any one and so we have to select from a myriad of store options: Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and three or four grocery chains (traditional and upscale, depending on the location).  Each carries an astonishing assortment of products.  We have to not only pick what to buy, we have to pick what brand we want and whether we want the traditional, low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb, or specialty flavored version of it. And we now have the options of natural, organic, hydroponic, GMO, non-GMO, local, pastured, free range, kosher, halal, and thousands of foods from around the world.  Then we have to decide what container size to buy. The other day I tried to purchase a bottle of salad dressing—I stood looking at a display 6 feet tall and 40 feet long of options. Overwhelmed, I left without buying any. And with our growing interest in our food sources, we want to buy directly from farmers at farmers markets, road side stands, CSAs, and pick-your-owns. While everyone expounds on the wonders of all the choices we now have, I wish Niles was still around.

~Uncle Dale~


rkbsnana said...

My dad delivered groceries for a small grocer back in the sixties. On occasion he turned bacon and put a roast on for patrons.

Mindi said...

I remember when there were two stores to shop at in my "home town". We knew who owned them, who worked there, and what they carried. They were larger grocers, but due to our small town we still knew them. Then Wal Mart came...and killed them all :(

Dale Johnson said...


I can't believe you found this photograph of Shelley. It is a little before my time but it looks just like when I was young. Spud day was the biggest day of the year in the potato capital of the world.


Our local market was Spic N Span. Everyone knew everyone. My story is similar to yours. Our butcher attended church with us. Brig (Brigham) Van Wagner was just as kind as he could be.

Lovely post has me longing for simpler times.

daisy said...

I remember going to the A & P with my mom as a child and smelling the coffee beans as they were ground right there at the cash register. Simpler times...

Lisa said...


Karina said...

Uncle Dale cracks me up :-)

Stoney Acres said...

We are lucky in the suburban area we live in to have one of the last survivors of the past. Our local grocery store has been in business for over 75 years and started out as a tiny market. Of course they have grown and adapted over the years and now it is a regular sized market, but is it still owned by a local family not a big chain!

They still close on Sundays, have a in store bakery and offer a lot more local products than most other stores. A lot of people in our town (including us) drive past a couple of larger chains to support the little local guy!

Diane said...

Great article. Brings back lots of memories.