I’m old enough to remember when there were no supermarkets. Mum would visit the local shopping centre, where she was on first-name terms with all the shopkeepers. The shops were modest in size, but did not lack for variety. Each was run by its owner, whose livelihood hinged upon mutual goodwill between customer and proprietor. More than one of these proprietors could count three generations of customers from the same family.
Malcolm, the butcher, knew what Mum would buy before she opened her mouth: roasting lamb, sausages, rump steak, chops for Dad to incinerate on our regular Sunday barbecue. Malcolm would always weigh the meat on an old fashioned set of scales and tally each number in pencil on butcher’s paper, with old-fashioned arithmetic, the kind they used to teach in Primary Schools, before electronics were developed to give the brain’s right side a free ride. And he always had fritz for kids.
There was nothing that old Mr White, the grocer, could not find: all manner of cooking ingredients and household items from vanilla bean extract to mousetraps. Personal service came with a smile and a sense that there was time to spend simply connecting as people. Shopping trolleys were not needed, as there was usually a junior to carry the large brown paper bags to the car, which was parked about ten feet away (three metres for all you youngsters still with me).
Next, Nick the greengrocer welcomed Mum with a recommendation of which fresh fruit he particularly liked from the old East End Market on East Terrace at 3.30 am that morning. Fresh veggies from local market gardens all but completed the shopping, other than quick stops for butter at the deli and at the hardware store for the glue Dad wanted to fix the latest thing that one of us kids had broken. Take note, young whippersnappers…back in my day, if something was broken you fixed it and it was as good as new. The notion of ‘upgrade’ was confined to steep hills that required a driver to shift back into second gear (double-declutching of course). But I digress….
The baker dropped off fresh bread direct to home from his horse and cart. The milkman replaced the empty glass bottles that Mum had washed and put out by the front door with full bottles of full cream milk. And, best of all: there was a complete absence of media hyperbole rejoicing in which vast temple of commerce the so-called fresh food people resided, or where the prices were down, down…
Shopping was a local, community affair. But somewhere in the past half century, opportunistic profiteers developed a bigger-is-better mindset for domestic needs, industry and emerging public media bought in and the population has been reminded ever since how much better off we are. However, there is time clock ticking over the inevitable consequences for the planet, given the waste of resources that large-scale commerce demand. A rising chorus demands a return to community-based commerce.
Well done, all those stallies and customers who shivered through last Saturday’s miserable rain and bitter cold. Everything old can be new again. Spread the word.