Monday, February 27, 2012

First Floor

We had a regionally famous hardware store in our town when I was a lad. Jack Bros. was famous not for its large and spacious display areas but for the fact that it was a long and narrow store that held, well, everything a hardware store should hold. Their advertising slogan could have been 'Jack Bros., if we don't have it, you don't need it.' The ceilings were high, and shelving and merchandise went to the top on both sides. Display cases lined the trail down through the middle of the store and they served both the need for display and as a base for more goods.
Leroy Jack ran the store and knew where everything was. Most home town folks knew better than to look for something. You likely couldn't find it on your own. You were better off to just visit with those around you and wait your turn for Leroy to smile and ask if he could help you. He had a way of focusing on just the one customer he was assisting at the time.
You might ask for a battery powered electric fencer and then you'd follow him thru the store until he took a left turn and then a right and reached into the shelf under a cabinet. "What else can I help you with" as he handed you the fencer. If you needed the battery that went with it you might follow him somewhere else. He had a rope operated elevator in the middle of the store. He might have to go upstairs to retrieve the items you had asked for and you would watch as he ascended into the ceiling to return in a bit with your request.
I'm not sure how the rope worked. It looped down from above and he pulled one side of the loop to go up and the other side to come back down. It was a one handed operation using long strides with that one hand while the other hand held the merchandise. I thought it was magic at the time.
I don't remember if he ran charge accounts for customers. Whether he did or didn't makes no difference. You didn't need to charge because he had counter checks. This would be a concept hard to explain to the current day financier.
Most businesses had pads of blank checks sitting on the counter from area banks. I recall Leroy having checks proudly displayed from each of the banks in the region, even the counties surrounding Burt County.
If he knew you well enough he would automatically grab the pad from your bank, scribble in the amount, and all you had to do was fill in your account number and sign your name. I can still recall all of those blank checks on display, several rows of them, all from different banks.
If a customer said he needed to write a check Leroy would respond with, "What flavor?" meaning which bank shall we use. He told me once that he had asked a stranger from a neighboring town which bank he used and the man became indignant. "Young man, it doesn't matter which bank you choose, I have money in all of them."
I even remember being at the feeder auction at the Omaha Stockyards and having the clerk at the commission company pull out a pad of checks from our bank back home for my father to use to buy two semi loads of calves.
The problem with all of this was obvious and the county courts eventually began to fill with folks who had written 'No Account' checks to local businesses.
It was customary to write the checks for a few dollars more than the purchase and thereby use the local merchants as banks. Customers would go next door and eat hot beef sandwiches at the City Cafe using Leroy's cash.
The difficulty with that was if the person wrote a bad check and you gave him the merchandise and the extra cash, it was like paying someone to rob your store and go out to dinner.
Eventually the counter checks faded to under the counter for a few years and then the banks began to refuse them all together. Checks, after all, are and were no more than one man's word that he would or will be good for the money. I'm sure that if you were a businessman or a banker during that time, the changeover to personalized checks didn't come soon enough.
Today's methods are fairly secure with credit and ATM cards. They won't let you spend what you don't have. They also sometimes won't let you spend what you do have. I needed to say to my ATM card company recently, "Uh, my ATM card was just refused. Why?" My next answer, "I know I bought pressure washer parts in Omaha last week." Me again, "I know I've never done that before but my pressure washer has never had a problem before. Yeah, it was me who used the card and, by the way, thanks for turning the card back on."
Dealing with Leroy was easier and besides, he had that neat elevator.



Back in the day, your words and a handshake were all you needed. Leroy sounds like quite a character and his hardware store quite the place to do business. Sad to see places like that fade into the sunset. I personally think DEBIT cards are great. But they do have their limitations.

Granny Annie said...

Am I crazy? I swear I've read this post several weeks ago and made some comment about banks were supposed to accept a check (demand note) on your account even if you wrote it on toilet paper. Did you write one like this and then delete it and rewrite it?

Cliff said...

Granny: You might recall I emailed this column to you for your perusal knowing that you were a banker in a former life.
I appreciated both this comment and reply you sent me at the time.
Taryterre: yes you could get it all at Jack Bros. You just couldn't find it by wondering around the store.

Debbie said...

There is still a store like that in Natchitoches, LA. They don't have the checks, but everything you could ever need can be found there. A friend of mine had a credit card that his wife was saving for when she went on a big shopping spree right before Christmas. When she started using it he got a call asking if he was actually using the card or if it had been stolen. He replied, "No it's my wife, but it might be cheaper if it had been stolen." Enjoyed your blog.

Marty Morrow said...

if you're ever in Indy, we'll have to go to Stout's shoes. It's been there 106 years and still has the original rope/basket combo for second story access. they still use it for cash transactions. they send the money in the basket up to the "back office."

Shannon said...

Our local store lets us run a tab all week and pay on Saturdays. This allows the hubs to fill up and go when everything is in rush mode around here. Which is going to be very soon.

Jim said...

I always liked going to Jack's. Somehow though I didn't know he had an elevator. Maybe that was for special customers.

Our little town of Willis has a 'chain' hardware store and also an old fashioned one on Main Street. The Main St one still sells nails and nuts and bolts and washers by weight.

The Main St one also has a delit although I am not sure I would eat from it. He inherited it and his grandmother really runs the store. It is old but I don't know how old.
Back in the 80's I needed a car part ahd had to go to an Olds dealer. It was either in Bancroft or Wisner I think. Anyway he took my Houston check without wanting any ID.

JunieRose2005 said...

Interesting post, Cliff. I enjoyed reading this!

Lanny said...

Love the post.