Walther's Cash Grocery opened at seven and Dad had to be there to get things ready. Closing time was eight o'clock during the week, ten on Saturdays, but if a customer pounded on the locked door, he would let him in. Then the perishables were taken from the windows and put in the cooler; green, smelly sawdust was spread on the floor and push brooms swept it to the back room leaving the floor clean, shiny, slippery and smelly. Seldom did we (yes, I worked all day Saturdays and after school during the week) leave before 11:30. Walther's Cash Grocery
While we were cleaning up, Dad marked down the day's cash receipts, then the drawer of the hand-cranked National Cash Register (whose figures went to 999) was emptied of all money except pennies, put in a bundle and hidden behind something in the back room. Then he would turn out the lights and we went home. There were no break-ins because Police Lieutenant Herman Lang sauntered by swinging his club and tried each door. If unlocked, he would either lock it or call the owner, and then proceed four doors west to The Lakewood Theater where he would ask the Drug Store Cowboys to go home, with little success.
We ate lunch and supper using anything in stock, making sandwiches with cold cuts from Wasmer's Meat Market two doors west. Mother picked out what she wanted with no record kept and sometimes on Saturday nights would bring something hot, but usually we nibbled what we wanted. Dad's theory was that if we ate our fill of the goodies we would tire of them but he was wrong; we were growing boys, always hungry.
His writing was so bad he often called on the help to decipher his scrawlings. He had no knowledge of bookkeeping and thought if he sold something for more than it cost, there would be a profit which was true, but he forgot such incidentals as salaries, light, rent and smelly sawdust. His philosophy was "Something will turn up" and it always did, even the failures.
Walther's Cash Grocery must have been outfitted on credit. Dad couldn't have made much money selling fish, but the fixtures were the best and the stock more than adequate. The shelves were so high the clerks had to stand on a stool to put the toilet paper (not "tissues") on top. To get a roll down, one of Ben Franklin's inventions was used, the one with a clasp at the end of a long handle, and it was a game to see who could lower the most without dropping any.
There were big bins under the counter where tea (green, Colombian, Bogota); beans (navy, split pea, lima, marrowfat); figs, prunes, citron, sugar and other items were stored after being weighed and tied in one-pound bags. Eggs were delivered in large, cheap, fragile twelve-dozen containers. After prying off the lid, the eggs were put in one-dozen boxes and placed on the counter, never in the cooler. Milk, from Telling-Belle-Vernon, came in glass quart bottles with cream on top to be skimmed off for breakfast cereals. Butter, sold only in pounds, were Land O' Lakes and Cottage Creamery. Little oleo was sold because a small gelatine pellet had to be broken and worked into it for coloring, or it looked and tasted like lard. Green coffee was roasted in a large roaster vented on Victoria. On Saturday nights, peanuts were roasted in their shells to be bought and eaten by customers while watching Mabel Norman fighting the villains, and cowboys killing Indians at the Lakewood Theater; all for 10c.
The cooler was huge at least to a ten-year-old boy. It had eight compartments on the side and bottom for milk, butter, fruits and vegetables. The ninth, in top center, held large blocks of ice, so high the iceman needed a stool to reach it. Each morning, he carried in 100# blocks on his shoulder pad from his truck. It was advisable to be served early because the ice melted during the day but cost the same. He would grasp it with his tongs, swing it to his shoulder and trot, dripping, to the cooler. Extra help in the summer was given to the Lakewood High football players who were heroes to the kids who sneaked in for "slivers" when he left the truck.
The store had a front and back room. The back was about 1/3 as big as the front and there potatoes were put up, lettuce prepared, berries skimmed, and sugar weighed; and hammer, brooms, mops and that smelly sawdust kept. Lettuce came in large boxes with shaved ice to keep it fresh. The heads were removed and trimmed with usually a rotten one emitting a foul, never-to-be-forgotten odor. Potatoes came in 100# bags with a slip-tie on top which was supposed to unravel with one tug but never did. It had to be cut, and the spuds were weighed into half-pecks (7 1/2 pounds) and pecks (15 pounds) and tied. They were never sold in less than half-pecks, often by the bushel. Putting them up was a Friday afternoon job to be ready for the Saturday trade. The bags were placed along the wall in a sort of pyramid and as high as possible. One afternoon, Oll (Roy's older brother Oliver) and I placed one too many and the mass fell with bags breaking and potatoes rolling everywhere. We cleaned up the mess, saved the unbroken bags and, working faster, had them ready for Saturday.
Dad was both easy and hard to work for. There were no idle hands, no joking, no fooling around. His motto was "There's always something to do in a grocery store," and he was right. We knew what we were supposed to do and kept busy waiting on customers, sweeping the floor and filling the shelves with new stock putting the new in back, the old in front as it is done today. String, used to wrap packages and bags, had to be kept filled in the container hanging from the ceiling;counters cleaned and brown paper put in the roller. "Tanglefoot" flypaper had to be carefully separated and placed so just flies, not hands, got caught on it. When black with flies, it was rolled up and discarded. "Progress" was made when it came in rolls and hung from the ceiling where no hands could touch it, but was not as successful; the flies knew where the good stuff was and refused to fly up and get caught.
Dad never learned to drive, so Oll drove him three times a week to the wholesale market on Orange Avenue in Cleveland and got there at about 4 a.m. After selecting the fruits and vegetables, they returned to open the store at 7 a.m. The orders were delivered by S. Weitz & Son but never seemed to be what Dad had ordered. The arguments between him and Syl were exciting to hear with both giving a little and Syl winning. When S. Weitz & Son went out of business, Rini's brought the produce with fewer arguments and less excitement. Edwards and Haserot brought the staples with no arguments and no excitement.
Dad insisted on the best and would not sell it if it was not right. Fruits and vegetables were prepared in the back room and then displayed in the windows. Oranges, of which there were at least four sizes, sold by the dozen as were apples and corn. The corn (sweet, evergreen, golden bantam, Mexican with different-colored kernels) tasted like corn should, not like today's. Apples (Astrakhan, Russet, Grimes Golden, Northern Spy, Transparent) had worms as did the corn providing extra, but unwanted protein.
Bananas came on a four-foot stalk that had a rope on top which, after being attached to a hook in the ceiling, the canvas bag was removed gingerly because often there was a frightened, well-fed tarantula which sprang out and everyone knew you would die if bitten by one. They were trapped and put in a Mason jar to die slowly of malnutrition and suffocation. The bananas were green and of different sizes which presented a problem because all customers wanted only large, ripe ones.
Summer was fun when the watermelons came. Syl would bring a truckful and toss them to someone on the ground who, for some reason, let the biggest one drop and break. They were placed on the sidewalk in front and sold whole or half, never by quarter or piece. To see if one was ripe, a three-sides plug was removed, admired and replaced. Cantaloupes were pressed on the ends as they are today to see if they were ripe and eventually they did become soft and "ripe" as they do today.
There were few automobiles and so much of our business was done over the phone. Mrs. Katz sat in a booth and patiently talked to the customer, first discussing the weather and the health of her family. Then, "Yes, the celery is fine today; yes, the bananas are ripe; the lettuce isn't ready yet but I'll see you get a firm head; eight quarts of strawberries and 25# of sugar? I'll bet you're making jelly, aren't you? Thank you (never "have a nice day")." She would write the order on a pad with a duplicate and ask if she (never a man) wanted it on the morning (10 a.m.) or afternoon (2 p.m.) delivery. The orders were filled and placed on the floor in bushel or half-bushel baskets with perishables, eggs, milk, butter and meat from Wasmer's on top.
"Cash" was soon removed from Walther's Cash Grocery and most purchases were charged. A lady customer would stand at the counter and say, "I'd like one dozen eggs, please" and the clerk would go back for them; then, "A quart of milk, please" and so back for it; a "loaf of Laub's bread please" made two useless trips but the lady was not to be rushed. When her order was completed, all items were written on the sales pad, the original given the lady and the duplicate put in the fast-growing McCaslin Charge Register. Mrs. Katz did the same with the phone orders and was the only employee allowed one white lie. If a customer called to ask where her morning delivery was, Mrs. Katz would say, "Why, it must be on the truck and will be there soon," even though she saw it still sitting on the floor.
Bills were supposed to be paid at the end of each month, but a hard luck story or part payment kept the total growing. Our "best" customers lived in Clifton Park and were the poorest payers, but Dad never sent out a statement or dunning, threatening letters. Later there was a Wednesday market on Warren Road where farmers brought their produce to sell along with oranges, grapefruit and lemons from Orange Avenue. Their prices were lower because they had no salaries, rent, or light to pay, or smelly saw dust to buy. Our charge customers would pull their loaded wagons past our store, wave and smile, and we would wave and smile back not wanting to lose their charge business.
In 1917, Dad had his last big "idee" and was the first to put a grocery store on wheels. He incorporated, sold stock and equipped five Kissel Kar trucks with staples, produce, eggs, butter, milk, cold cuts, brooms and kerosene. They covered Lakewood, Rocky River and Bay Village and each day traveled the same route, ringing a bell to tell people they could do their grocery shopping from a Transit Grocery truck. It was a success, but with more cars on the road, another competitor called Motorola, and sticky fingers by the drivers put Walther's Grocery and Transit Grocery out of business.