I was born in the early seventies, that means the big 4-O is coming soon, but even I remember a time before grocery stores became giant tributes to mass consumption of over produced and over packaged goods. Most people dread the “weekly” trip to the grocery store, some people go out less than weekly. Our food has become so laden with preservatives that shopping carts are now immense, ready to hold all those giant boxes and bags that can shelf sit for decades. Many of my friends and family have turned to shopping on-line, with a standard order delivered right to their doors at great expense, but it is a busy family’s savior in a time pressured world. We now have so much waste, so much to recycle, that taking out the garbage can be more labor intensive than cooking up dinner.
So when did it all go so horribly wrong? I am by no means the best at being ‘green’, I am not a vegetarian, and I am not someone who is the most socially aware, but I would have to be blind not to see that we have gone in a direction that is going to be very hard to change. The old Corner Grocery Store is almost extinct, and that is a shame.
In Canada [where I hail from] and the United States, the mega-sized grocery and drug store combo is a dominant feature on the landscape of most suburban shopping centers. We don’t really even question it when yet another Big-Box shop opens around the corner. However, there was a time when small corner grocers were essential to a neighborhood, and many shopped for fresh goods on a daily basis.
We drank out of glass bottles, which we returned. Dry goods were sold in paper boxes lined with wax paper, or tins that would be re-used. Ice cream came in a paper box. Bread, produce, and meats were wrapped in paper and tied with a string. Your home ice-box didn’t hold as much, and things did ‘spoil’ as you would expect fresh food to do.
So what, you may ask, is my point? Well, sometimes we need to take a look back in time to remember that most families had all their needs met by their corner store, and that the more we package and preserve, the more wasteful we have become. For many, a look at vintage grocery ads, items, and containers in a wonderful way to remember the days of their childhood. For others, a reminder that for all our “progress”, we have taken a huge backwards leap in taking care of Mother Nature.
My family is rather unique in that I come from a ‘Grocery Ancestry’ of sorts. On my father’s side, his parents owned a corner grocery store on St. Clair Avenue in part of Toronto’s most well known early residential areas. He grew up working the store, and as he tells it, bribing the delivery drivers to let him drive their trucks long before he was of age. On my mother’s side, her father and his partner had a ‘pop’ bottling plant in Thunder Bay, Ontario where they bottled such favorites as Nu-Grape and Sun Crest. My maternal grandmother also had her time working in a butcher shop as a young woman before she married my grandfather. You could say my love of the corner grocery store is almost a genetic trait.
Most people, I imagine, have had some connection to a corner store at some point in their family tree, there were just that many small shops serving the community. Today I want you to remember those days, before the mega-ginormous food outlets, and remember all the families that relied on the small corner stores for their livelihoods and as a main food source for nourishing their families. The stunning art blocks at the top of the post are the perfect way to honor that heritage in a new and eye-catching way. If you collect old photographs or glass bottles, you can find some of the best on Etsy. Vintage packaging and ephemera remind us of a simpler time and are great photo props or serve as inspirations for decor and artwork projects. An old soda crate can become a great way to organize your craft room or studio. This Time Travel Thursday, I ask you to think outside the “Big Box” grocery stores.