This Week I Learned Something New About Something Old

Since sailing in French Polynesia, we have come across “magazins” or grocery stores that are very different from what I was used to back in the U.S. Some grocery stores here have a large window with a counter and all of the goods for sale are behind the counter. We tell the person what we want and she gives us the items if they are available.

A counter style grocery in Amanu where we give the clerk our list.

I thought this was a unique way of selling food until I learned that this was also the “normal” style of grocery shopping in the U.S. until the 1950’s.

Apparently, prior to a new concept of “self-service” shopping introduced by Clarence Saunders, one would call in or hand deliver a list of grocery items desired. Then the clerk would choose the listed items and bag them for the customer.

No strolling the aisles to determine what you want or what you had forgotten. Instead, one lived or died by how well she kept up with her list of necessary items.

In 1916, Clarence Saunders opened the first self-serve grocery store in Memphis Tennessee. He called his grocery store Piggly Wiggly, and today there are still more than 500 Piggly Wiggly stores in 17 states.

Image of the first Piggly Wiggly circa 1918 (Wikipedia)

This new concept took a little while to catch hold but by the 1950’s, Saunders’ self-service grocery store had become the standard across the U.S.

Saunders is also responsible for most of what we consider normal shopping experiences today including shopping baskets, aisles of food to browse, refrigerated cases and check out lanes….. who knew?!

So, I learned that the “unique” style of giving a list of items to the clerk at the grocery here in French Polynesia is actually an old style that has faded from the U.S. markets…. I learned something new about something old.

I bet some of our friends remember giving a list to the grocery clerk and picking up the goods all bagged and ready to go. Would you prefer to shop this way? Or do you think the grocery delivery services now available in the U.S. are a return to old fashioned shopping?

Thanks for stopping by to read this blog post. It’s a bit of a detour from the usual, but I found the evolution in grocery shopping interesting. Plus it made me wonder if the new delivery concepts are really just revival of old ideas. As always, we wish you good health and fun adventures.

9 thoughts on “This Week I Learned Something New About Something Old

  1. Very interesting! I never knew that part of our history. Although it sounds like fun to avoid the store and have someone else do the shopping, I often see something in the store that gives me an idea for another meal, so off I go for more ingredients. I think they sell much more by letting people shop for themselves.


    1. Hi Sandy. It sounds convenient but I rarely shop with a list, I just go by memory and like you, see things that spark my interest and buy those. I agree that I buy more because I can browse the shelves.


  2. The past is returning here in the US but with a twist. Big Box stores like Walmart and Target are giving you the option of in store shopping with self serve check out, which is becoming the norm. However, the other new option is to shop on line, via online list, check out on line, then drive to the store, pull up to your assigned lane, and a store clerk will deliver your order to your car.


    1. Hey Steve. Interesting “twist” with these new options in the States. I haven’t tried them since I haven’t shopped in years in the States…. but here in the Tuamotus, I sometimes order from a shopper in Tahiti and the items are shipped to us. It is very helpful and convenient, but I like choosing my things. If I was still working, those services would be super helpful!


    1. Hey Amy, thanks for the link. I read a bit of the transcript and will definitely listen to it…. interesting that this podcast attributes the start of modern groceries to “Michael Cullen did when he opened King Kullen in Queens, New York, on August 4, 1930” instead of to Clarence Saunders in 1916. I hope you and David are loving the refit results! XO


  3. What a coincidence. I just finished a book called Four Winds by Kristen Hannah, a story of the late 30’s and 40’s dust bowl and Okies as they left Texas and went to and lived in California. That type of shopping is described in the book. The customer gave a list to the proprietor behind the counter. He, the head of house, sent it upstairs where the family fulfilled the order and sent it back down. I found the description strange but your research explains it.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Al! Great to see your name pop up here! Ha it is funny that you just read about this type of shopping….from what I hear, things are trending back to submitting orders and having them delivered. Interesting but I still like strolling the aisles and picking my produce. 🙂


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