Something old, but something new, has been added to our grocery shopping: Call your grocery store, give the employees your list, and they will tell you when your order is ready for pickup.

I noticed that Giant at Pantops is remodeling a part of the front of the store to install a pick-up station. Food Lion at Pantops has a large sign out front that tells you the staff is happy to receive your order by phone and will have your order ready for pickup. This new, but not really new, innovation is being offered by most of our grocery stores.

This may be a new innovation in 2019, but it is older than I am, and I am no spring chicken.

When we — Mother, Dad, and I — first came to America, and Abingdon, from Nazi Germany in 1939, Mother used to call up the Piggly Wiggly and order what she needed. If you called by 10 a.m., you would get your groceries delivered between noon and 2 pm. For the afternoon shift, you’d call by 2 p.m. and your order would arrive around 4 p.m.

It was only a 10-minute walk from our house to the stores downtown, and often we would carry our groceries home. “Good exercise,” as Dad used to say.

One day, we had a strange incident. My mother, who spoke a rather broken English, ordered her groceries by phone, as usual. The clerk who took her phone order asked, “Mrs. Gabriel, is there anything else?”

“No,” my mother, replied, and switched to German — “das ist alles,” meaning “that is all.”

The groceries arrived that afternoon. Mother called me to come to the kitchen and explain why this strange glass of green things was in her grocery order.

“Those are olives, Mom,” I said. They were not a household item for us. Then it dawned on me. The clerk probably asked her on the phone if she needed anything else. Reverting to German, she must have said, “Nein, das ist alles.” “Alles” became “olives” in the phone transmission. We teased Mother about that for weeks. She never did like olives.

I must be different. I realize that ordering groceries by phone or online saves time and effort, but I like the togetherness of walking down the grocery isles, seeing what other people are buying, and occasionally chatting with someone about the virtues of one kind of salad dressing over another, or asking someone to reach something for me on the top shelf. Grocery shopping, for me, is togetherness, even if you do not know who you are talking to over that can of soup.

Of course, there was more friendliness in the old days of the country store. People would go grocery shopping for one or two items and spend the afternoon at the store, particularly in the winter around the pot-bellied stove. And there was often a black cat, who claimed the cracker barrel as her home. I remember that black cat in the Abingdon A&P store. She got more attention than the sales clerk.

When I was not in a hurry to do my grocery shopping, I spent time reading recipes on the labels of canned goods — particularly tomato products. One day I became so engrossed in the recipes on the cans of tomato sauce arranged in a pyramid display in the canned goods aisle that I moved the wrong way — right into the display. Myriad tomato sauce cans rolled all over the floor. I offered to pick them all up, but the clerk said, “No, it’s all right.” I became an instant fan of Hunt’s tomato sauce.

Yes, things change in all of our daily activities. Some things are new, and some are just an update of the old. Something I rarely see at the checkout counter in the supermarket are premiums. I used to think people spent Sunday afternoons clipping grocery premiums out of the newspaper. You really can’t do that on the internet.

Grocery coupons started when the country store of the 1800s started selling a variety of items. It was the idea of young William Wrigley Jr., the town’s bad boy. When he was 11 years old in 1883, he ran away from home in Philadelphia. He spent the summer in New York City, selling newspapers along Park Avenue. Once in a while he sent home a postcard, indicating that he was still alive.

When Wrigley came home that fall, his father put him to work in his soap factory, scouring out the boiling pots with a wooden paddle. By the time William was 14, he convinced his father he could make more money selling soap than stirring it. Thus young Wrigley began selling soap from a horse and buggy all over eastern Pennsylvania.

At 19, Wrigley went west. Sadly, at the open window of his train, the wind blew away his hat, his train ticket and his money. He had 65 cents left. Back to selling soap.

In the spring of 1891, when Wrigley was 29, he convinced his father to open an office in Chicago. It was to be a central spot from which to sell his soap and ship it to dealers. He eventually added baking powder and a free cookbook with each purchase. Wrigley eventually, also, added a premium with each purchase.

After selling various items, included Wrigley’s premiums, his next venture was the most successful. He made a deal with a chewing gum company to use his premiums. People would buy the chewing gum just for the premiums.

A steady stream of products began using premiums — not only small items, but also those directed to store owners. Those for grocery store owners included coffee grinders, cheese cutters, cash registers, ladders and desks.

By 1902, Wrigley had enough cash to tackle New York City. He purchased every square foot of available poster advertising space touting his products and the enclosed premiums. The magic of the word “free” tempted storekeepers and customers.

About the same time, 13-year old Charley Thompson of Bridgewater, Connecticut, parlayed his 75 cents into a fortune by offering something for nothing. He started a premium mail-order business. Thompson offered anyone by mail, on receipt of a quarter, a package of stationery with a pencil and a free piece of jewelry. He made a fortune and added complexion cream and other premiums. Charley Thompson was a role model for P.T. Barnum. Their many business ventures are for another story.

I still want to grocery shop in person. I like to feel the peaches to see if they are ripe, and read the recipes on the cans. But, I have learned to be careful what I touch.

Get Breaking News Alerts

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Hilde G. Lee is a food writer and co-author of “Virginia Wine Country III” with her husband, Allan Lee. She can be reached at

Load comments