Sunday, April 6, 2008

Memories of Working at Hopkins Grocery

Crowd for Saturday Money Drawing in the 1950s as seen from upper floor of Tom's Drug Store
-Click to enlarge-

Part 1

Gerald McKibben

I worked there before Don did. Howard hired a lot of high school students, and his store was a good place to work. He was a good man who treated people fairly. John Howard, Hayden Nabors, Bill Hogue, and a Wildmon boy, whose first name I can’t remember, were others working there while I was there. There were possibly others also. Don remembers that our Cousin Doug Herring worked there for quite a while, and also Bobby Lytal, Larry Carpenter (Gene’s son), and Billy Ray Dobbs, though not necessarily at the same time. David Johnson later became the butcher after Richard Mauldin.

Billy Hopkins, Howard’s brother, worked at the checkout counter. Raymond Hill was also a checker. This was before he had his own furniture and appliance store. Sometimes Mildred, Howard’s wife, also checked groceries. The old cash registers were not automatic. After entering the amount of each item you had to pull that lever and that’s what printed the item on the paper tape. Billy was very efficient. But he had one customer who got into the habit of asking him to re-enter all her items to double check his work. That was time consuming, and was a real pain when things were busy and she had a large basket of items. So he devised a plan to discourage her from doing that. He rang up her basket of groceries one day and deliberately entered the wrong amount on one item, in her favor. So when she asked him to please re-enter the items, he “found” the mistake and told her she owed him a little more money than she did the first time. She never did ask him to do that again.

During the fifties buses drove to town on Saturdays from out in the country and brought people who didn’t have their own transportation or who just found it more convenient to ride the bus. Those people would come into the store and grocery shop, then when we bagged their groceries we would write their names on the bags and stack them in the floor in one corner of the store. Any perishables were bagged and labeled separately and taken back to the refrigerator or freezer section. A note to that effect was written on the bag. Later in the afternoon, after the “drawing”, when the buses were getting ready to leave, they would come and get their groceries.

There was a lot of personal service back then that you don’t get now. Those who didn’t have any transportation or anyone else to do their grocery shopping for them would phone in their orders, and they would be filled and delivered to them. One day Billy handed me a grocery list he had taken down. I collected all the items and brought them to the checkout counter. Billy reached in and pulled out a carton of Donald Duck orange juice and told me to go and exchange it for the more expensive pure product. “Mrs. so and so doesn’t want that cheap stuff”, he said.

Customers were extremely loyal in those days. Rarely would anyone trade with both of the bigger stores; you were either a Cunningham customer or a Hopkins customer. There were people who shopped at Cunningham’s who never set foot in Hopkins, and vice versa. It didn’t have anything to do with a negative opinion of the other place. But rather, I assume one reason was that you expected some degree of personal service back then, and it was to your advantage to get to know the owners well.

I mentioned how efficient Billy Hopkins was. Once, when he was breaking open rolls of coins to replenish the cash register, he hesitated with one roll and bounced it up and down in his hand a few times and then threw it down on the counter. “Count that”, he said. “It feels too light”. And sure enough, it only had 39 quarters. It amazed me that he could detect a difference of one quarter in 40.

In Part 2, I tell about how we candled eggs and helped ladies pick out material for home made dresses.


  1. Arthur Lee Wilemon, Curtis' son.

  2. I did not know there was that many people in Baldwyn at that time,.
    How much money was given away on Ssaturdays?

  3. Correct spelling to Saturdays.

  4. 4:12 wrote:

    How much money was given away on Ssaturdays?

    I am thinking that there were small prizes such as $5 grocery coupons, etc. to get the crowd excited, and the three main giveaways were $25, 50, and top prize 100. Not sure, but think that is close.

  5. I'm not sure what the usual amount was but I do remember on the Saturday before Christmas in 1958 Mr. Coggins announced that instead of a top prize, they would have several drawings for $25.00 each. I had one of the lucky merchant's tickets and couldn't believe it. A gentleman standing near me had to push me up to the front.
    That $25.00 enabled me to buy gifts for my girlfriend and my mother.

  6. I worked in a grocery store in Booneville about the same time as Gerald. It was similar to our operation, so I can relate. Good story, thanks. looking forward to the other storys.