Check out these historic grocery store photos

Vintage photograph of a woman reading her grocery list to the man at the counter
Photo: Bettmann (Getty Images)

Once upon a time, you couldn’t go to the grocery store in the middle of the night in your pajamas. That’s because grocery stores weren’t open in the middle of the night, only during the day. Good Housekeeping has published a slideshow of vintage photos of grocery shopping since the turn of the 20th century, and boy, were things different then. In the distant past, you couldn’t roam the aisles picking stuff up and then randomly discarding it a few aisles over: you had to wait for the clerk behind the corner to get everything for you. You may not have used a cart, either: before those were invented in the ’40s, everyone carried baskets. Checkout clerks had to check prices on all items, and then they had to calculate change in their heads.


On the plus side, those clerks got paid, on average, above minimum wage. Customers could do their laundry or grab lunch at a soda fountain while they shopped. And the experience was more aesthetically pleasing: there was an art to in-store and window displays, and shoppers dressed up for the occasion. (To be honest, in these pandemic times, I sometimes take pleasure in putting on “real” clothes to leave the house for the grocery store.) Take a look and imagine yourself back into the past.

Associate editor of The Takeout. Chicagoan. Owned by dog.



And being a check out clerk was a skilled job. No scanning. You had to punch the prices into the register. And to be fast, which you had to be, you had to do it by touch. Took too long to look at the product then look at the register to punch in prices.

I don’t know how old this one is but they looked something like....

And prices were applied to the products. So you would look through the shelf to see if you could fine one with a lower un-updated price.

Anybody remember Penn Fruit in West Orange?