Back in the days of 142 taverns and 49 barber shops

Echoes of our past
William & JoyWangemann • forThe Review

There was a time in our past when the family owned business was the heart of our retail community. Today few remnants of that delightful and convenient system still exist.

The 1945 Sheboygan city directory lists 89 family owned grocery stores, 54 filling stations, 142 neighborhood taverns, 49 barber shops, 9 bakeries, 10 candy shops,10 hardware stores, 19 drug stores and 4 lumber yards just to mention a few.

Except for a very few every one of these businesses had the owners name on the front door, and that made all the difference.

Today we are used to the so called convenience of the of the big box stores, brilliantly over illuminated, with endless elevator music droning in the background.

We who are old enough to remember recall how handy it was to patronize the neighborhood merchant. If you needed a loaf of bread, a prescription filled or a barber shop, there was probably one very near by.

The small family owned grocer has disappeared; known as the Mom and Pop stores they were present in every part of the city. Small, yes, convenient absolutely!

They had no shopping carts you had to struggle with to get separated, no bright florescent lights or huge parking lots to trudge through in the midst of a Wisconsin winter.

What they did have was a proprietor who called you by your first name, creaky wooden floors, charge accounts and many would deliver your groceries to your door.

Some had a small meat counter; others did not, which was no problem, because there were 26 meat markets in the city and many of them delivered.

If you were lucky enough to go along with your father when he paid the monthly grocery bill, the grocer would most likely slip a free candy bar into your hand.

The typical store had shelves that lined the walls, in front of the shelves stood counters, behind which the shop owner stood, just let the him know what you wanted, and he would get it for you.

If you didn’t have time to shop, pick up the phone, call in your order and a short time later your groceries would appear at your door. One strange thing about these stores was that they sold no flowers, house wares, liquor, magazines, or lottery tickets…just food.

Need a haircut? A barbershop was not far off, and was probably attached to your favorite corner tavern with a connecting door between the two.

All you had to do was stop at the barber shop pick up a number, pass through the connecting door, order a beer and wait your turn. When the barber chair was empty the barber would give a sharp rap on the wall and the next customer would appear.

At the corner pharmacy you could of course get your prescriptions filled but most of them had a marvelous soda fountain, usually staffed by a teen age “soda jerk”. For a nickel you could have a cherry or maybe a chocolate coke or a malt. The malts were the real thing made in a blender like mixer flavored with malt powder and chocolate syrup.

The corner drug store soda fountain was an American institution, a place to meet friends and just “hang” out for a while; all are now gone, but fondly remembered.

Drive into one of the 54 filling stations in town and the attendant would come to you! Many wore neat uniforms, consisting of company shirt, a black leather bow tie, and a hat as he serviced your car.

Gas “wars” were common amongst competitors, first one would lower his price then another would go lower and so on, 18.9 cents per gallon was seen more than once during these competitive battles. The only victor in a gas war was the customer.

After filling your tank, cleaning your windshield and checking the air in your tires you handed the attendant a five dollar bill, and almost always got change back. During this entire time you stayed in the comfort of your car, while the attendant trudged back and forth in the rain or cold.

On Sundays nearly everything in town was closed, somehow we managed to get our shopping done during the week and make Sunday, truly a day of rest.

With today’s brilliantly lit stores stocked with an endless variety of goods spread out over what seems like acres it makes one wonder, are we really making progress or going backwards?

Today’s tidbit: The census of 1860 showed that the majority of city’s population consisted of German born immigrants, most spoke only German. Sheboygan over the years also had several German language newspapers.

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