Who, being loved, is poor? (Oscar Wilde)
Cec was my best buddy when we were kids. His Dad’s name was Joe. Joe was taciturn personified, but patient with kids. Their house was the most popular among the neighbourhood kids. It was candy heaven; well candy heaven if you had a penny, or even two.
I know the shelves in the tiny veranda, and the room behind, were stocked with other staples, but us kids never saw past the gleaming glass candy jars filled with bubble gum, all-day suckers, toffee, and jaw-breakers to name a few. To make ends meet in the Dirty Thirties Cec’s Mom and Dad turned the front rooms of their house into a “corner store.”
Jawbreakers, those little black candy balls that would last all day if you sucked and didn’t bite, well it seemed like all day. They were one of the favourites of most kids. A three day supply was yours for a penny — if you didn’t share, or succumb to temptation.
Corner stores graced many neighbourhoods then, and graced is descriptive of their role. They were gathering places, like the small town post office used to be — remember? Friends and neighbours stopped, picked up some baloney or bread, and visited.
Sometimes they’d meet coming, or going too, cause there was a lot of walking going on. Cars were rare in many neighbourhoods. Kids hung around there though, hoping a buddy would come along with a penny or two and share.
The pennies were usually clutched tenaciously in tiny hands; patched jean pockets weren’t trustworthy. Pennies weren’t for tossing aside as they are today.
Recently an older magazine came to hand and I read last year that the most dangerous job in the United States, according to the television show Protect and Serve, as mind boggling as it sounds is, convenience store clerk.
The national news tells us, too often with tragic news, that Canada is the same.
I can’t remember anyone “putting down” the corner store in word, or in deed. Everyone agreed they “graced” the neighbourhood, and they certainly weren’t seen as a cash cow to those with criminal intent.
Times were hard in the Dirty Thirties; they were also quiet. There weren’t as many of us wandering around, and honesty was treasured in the neighbourhood, actually among all grassroots folk.
The mark of an honest person was their word, sealed with a handshake. Our first contact with business people was with those like Joe and his corner store.
There weren’t any pork barrels in corner stores, just folk like Joe trying to make a go of it. He taught lessons in honesty and we didn’t know it. We took his lessons with us though.
Anyway, my favourite corner store anecdote though true is becoming an urban legend needing retelling.
“I’m not going to make a profit on the misfortunes of my neighbours,” a tiny, Japanese corner store owners told a reporter who asked her why she was the only store in town, big and little, not raising prices during the shortages caused by the ice storm in Ontario a few years back.
She, and the folk like her, keep your faith high in the grassroots people, and other small businessmen and women showing us honesty is their policy. It’s like Jimmy said one day, “If honesty is the best policy, why don’t our government and business leaders adopt it as their policy?”
“A person who is fundamentally honest doesn’t need a code of ethics. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are all the ethical code anybody needs. (Harry S. Truman)
A tip of the hat to the people who own and operate today’s old and new corner stores. They are still one of the cornerstones of our small business community who have been contributing to our towns and villages and cities in more ways than you can shake a stick at, to use a 1930s expression to accompany a 2006 compliment.
P.S. The Farmers’ Almanac tells us: “There are two Friday the 13th in 2006. One’s gone the other is in October. Be careful and remember it’s bad luck to fall out of a 13th storey window on a Friday.”