Everyone in Madison Park made a buck working in the early days. There weren’t many five week vacations in the Bahamas but most found life to be easy living at times. Many Mom and Pop stores were owned by refugees from various European countries who lived above or behind them. They were able to put their kids through school while being an important part of the neighborhood.
Jack Payless still standing on Martin Luther King Way made an appearance as a new concept in the retail business. They bought in bulk and sold to the public at a discount everything from motor oil to bread. Bread! How could they undercut Wonder Bread and Hostess Cakes, the company where I was a driver salesman? Granted I was only covering relief routes and vacations to some 800 Mom and Pop stores in the Seattle area but it was my bread and butter after all.
The chain stores all began opening on Sundays so ordering for them became impossible. Back then we lived on base pay and banked the commission. The commission was so lucrative, it was finally possible to open a savings account. Sadly, the Mom and Pop’s couldn’t keep up and had to sell both stores and homes.
At Wonder Bread the demands were so heavy they added trucks to serve the chains. It was all good, we made more money but Uncle Sam said, “Here! I’ll help you!” Singles usually had no write-offs.
This added volume in the market was both good and bad. The major chains, the 24-hour markets, Jack’s Payless and even us driver salesman were certainly happy. Along with this success came a major problem. There was no such thing as credit in those days—we all had cash or dealt with checks. The grocer’s till had to be emptied several times a day.
This was a time for a new business enterprise to start up with little or no overhead, tax free. It was a green company with few requirements--perhaps a 1927 Issue 45 Cal—it was a cash removal company called a Holdup! It also boasted of short transactions with just a smile, a simple “hand over the cash”, and a wave goodbye.
The police were aware but the only solution was to have weapons on premise and to be a hero!
My first experience was at Tak’s Grocery on 14th and Jefferson. I was ordered to be still and do nothing while a 45 Cal was jammed in my side. Thoughts of slamming this guy with my iron bread tray was stopped only by seeing the reflection of an additional bad guy by the pop case. Scratch being a hero as now I was perspiring heavily at the close call.
There were three of them and they left in a 1950 Buick. Tak called the police who asked for a general description of height, weight, etc. Neither one of us had made eye contact so we were not too informative. Back to my route I had little need for coffee.
This was becoming an all too common scenario as another time I walked in the rear of a store to stock my bread rack. Once again, I felt a 45 Cal in my side with the rather loud suggestion that I hurry up to the front of the store. I joined checkers, other workers and the manager who was really roughed up as he had forgotten the combination to the safe and had to empty his own pockets.
After this episode, the last stop of the day was the Columbia City Cafe where it became a ritual to down a shot of Canadian Club Whiskey followed by a pack of Doublemint gum.
I was becoming cynical--not giving a damn--I’d call on a store and yell before entering, “Can I serve you now or are you being robbed?” Some laughed and said, “It’s him again!” Bottom line for me: No answer, no service, egress!
A stop at one of the 24 hour stores I served there were the same three guys buying a package of gum at the checkout counter so I left not knowing the outcome.
My first big store was Johnnies on Empire (MLK) and saw the same guys. I walked to the front door and banged on the glass. The manager swore at me and I swore back. I mouthed the words, “In one minute you are going to be held up! Let me in!” He called the cops and in minutes the Blue surrounded the Buick. Everyone was there but Roy Rodgers and Silver!
Johnnie and the cops all thanked me. My day ended with -- you guessed it.
A good friend and roommate Herb Hazzard also sold for Wonder Bread in the Riverton Heights area. His first stop at 6:30 a.m. where a bad guy appeared with a gun aimed at his skull. They scuffled and a shot was fired-it hit the truck windshield. The two continued to fight but Herb turned the gun around, squeezed the trigger and shot a 22 long into the bad guy’s chest. Fade to black. The inquest lasted 17 minutes and it was noted the guy had a long rap sheet.
The union had no solution but to advise us to carry a weapon. Stores employed instore security guards. A larger than life security guard who most would not want to deal with had two black eyes and a black bandage on his head. I was trying to imagine the size of the guy who did this. He told me in confidence that he caught a little old lady stealing a steak. He had tapped her on the shoulder and she turned to whack him with a large glass bottle of Heinz Ketchup. She and the steak left as the guard napped.
Ralphs by the Sea by the Sick Stadium (remember the Seattle Rainiers?) had a visit by a couple of Bonnie and Clyde wannabes. A large man and a small frail attractive blond woman with a nice smile was paying for items at the checkout when her purse spilled out all the contents onto the floor. Mickey at the till helps this frail girl pick up her goods while the tall fellow removes all the large bills from the till. Out of the corner of his eye, Mickey realized something was amiss and slammed the drawer breaking the guy’s thumb and index finger. He yelled but not for police—Ralph did that!
A beer truck driver at a Hillcrest market atop Denny and John was held up and locked in the back of his truck. He was there for a long while-- no one could hear his pounding. Finally, cops came with a locksmith noting quite a bit of liquid coming from the truck running down the hill. We all watched as they cut off the lock and there he sat smiling on cases of beer with an Olympia in his hand smiling. He was grateful to say the least.
What some of us remember was how small and friendly the stores were and that there was room for all. Driving downtown, you could park anywhere on the street and it felt safe to walk around. Go wild! Spend $1.50 for a night’s entertainment. Go anywhere and most likely run into neighbors and friends.Oh, the days of the 10 cent Twinkie and the 15-cent fruit pie!