DO YOU REMEMBER VISITS TO YOUR LOCAL CORNER STORE?
Store Wars is the story of one of these stores, set in 1970 and based around real life events. The author, Gary Cuthbert, blends nostalgia and humour into a readable story that will bring back memories to those who lived through these times and inform those who did not.
Angus Stroud runs this particular store, meet him, his staff, suppliers and customers as he faces the daily task of keeping ahead of the competition. The sign above his shop proudly displays his name along with the famous ‘VG’ sign.
It was raining, which was nothing new for April 1970. As usual Angus Stroud prepared to open the front door to the corner shop, which wasn’t actually on a corner, he looked out of the window and saw the little haggled figure of Mrs Downing, or as he preferred to call her “I’ll Just Have”. He had started thinking of her as that many years back as she always prefaced what she ordered with those three little words before going on to explain that the refrigerator was playing up so she only needed X for her husband. As far as Angus Stroud could remember it was now going on ten years since the dreaded machine had first started acting up. Mrs Downing was always the first customer on a morning, followed later in the day by putting in an appearance at three p.m. as she started to think of the evening meal. Stroud smoothed down his white overall before unbolting and unlocking the door.
“Morning Mrs Downing, raining again I see” he couldn’t count the times he had greeted her with the exact same sentence on a morning. The usual response was “I’ll Just Have… two slices of bacon, or two sausages, or two eggs,” depending on what Mr Downing was going to eat on that morning. Never in all his years had he heard her say anything other than those words before then chatting about something in the morning papers, or what the neighbours had got up to last night, so when she replied with a different opening remark, he was initially thrown.
“Eee Have You Heard Mr Stroud?” taking the fact he was stunning into silence as a sign that he had in fact not heard, Mrs Downing carried on “the butcher on Albright Street has died. Not that I ever went, as you know because I come here for all my meat. Plus his bacon was always fatty and his sausage were tasteless, all fat and gristle and don’t you even mention his chops because the last time I bought one from him in shrank to nothing. Anyway, Mrs next door called last night and told me, said he collapsed after locking up last night and when he never arrived upstairs his wife went down and saw him through the window laid out on the floor. She had to get the police to break the door down as he had locked the door on the inside. By the time the ambulance arrived he was gone, poor thing. Fancy dying on his shop floor.” In all his years, Angus Stroud had never heard her talk so much without even ordering anything, out of habit he went behind his meat counter at the back of the shop and weighed out two slices of bacon, that he had already sliced before opening the front door (no pre-packed bacon in those days). He slipped the bacon into a white paper bag and then wrote the price on the bag. As Mrs Downing had still not asked for anything he carried on and weighed, wrapped and then priced up two sausages. As she eventually came to a close he handed over the two white bags, which she readily took hold of. “Can you put these down, I’ll pay on Friday when he gets paid.” (Back in the 1970’s it was still a common thing to get things, goods etc on ‘tick’, many owner-operator businesses ran this service for the ‘good customers’, who would every week or so come in and pay the bill. If things got tight the special customers would suddenly disappear from sight for a week or two till they would be able to settle the account.”
Stroud thought to himself that Mr Downing will think it’s his birthday when he finds he had both sausage and bacon. The bell on the front door rang as Mrs Downing left the building.
* * *
“Mavis,” Stroud raised his voice to address the white haired assistant who had still not appeared on the shop floor. “Have you heard about ‘Slimy Joe’?
Stroud had always thought of his fellow businessman as ‘Slimy Joe’ as no matter what happened Joe Jackson, the butcher, had always wriggled out of things. Be it giving a gift for the scouts Christmas party or avoiding receiving a fine or a warning from the local environmental health inspector.
“No, Mr Stroud, why what has he done now?” Mavis hurried in from the back shop still fastening up her blue overall. It was well known that ‘Slimy Joe’ and her employer did not see eye to eye.
“He’s only gone and died.” He had intended to sound concerned but it came across more like he was happy. “I bet he was trying to get out of paying that boy of his, his wages.”
“MR STROUD!” Mavis chastised, “Don’t speak bad of the dead. Even if he was a drunk and a poor butcher.” Although Mavis had no actual information that Joe Jackson was a drunk, or even liked a drink, she had once heard a customer claim he had made a pass at her one night in the local pub. Angus Stroud wandered to the front of the small shop and ventured behind the counter. He retrieved a small notebook from under a shelf by the ‘till’ (checkout). He flicked though the pages till he found a page which was headed with ‘Mrs Downing’, he quickly scribbled the cost of Mrs Downing’s recent purchases and then totalled them up.
“Well I better order extra meat, we might pick up some of his customer.” Angus Stroud rubbed his hands, although he hadn’t meant to, it was just a reaction to the idea of making extra sales. “Mavis, can you tidy up the shelves.” Mavis Reilly, although she had white hair was in her early forties. She had worked for Mr Stroud for five years after the last of her three children had left school she had needed to fill in the hours of the day. Slim and some would say not unattractive, she was happily married. She would never say she loved her job or that she was well paid, just that it kept her from getting bored. The shop, which basically was a rectangular shape of approximately thirty feet, the doorway was near centre of the shop front, once inside you were faced with a central shelving which automatically made you turn to your left this lead straight to Mr Stroud’s area of command. This was a refrigerator cabinet, where he displayed both cooked and uncooked meats, cheese plus other items. Next to this was the fruit and vegetables display. (In the 70’s there was no such thing as pre-packed food other than bags of potatoes). The checkout, or till area was to the right of the doorway, to get here you had no choice other than to walk all the way around the store. Local ‘corner stores’, as they became known, would be the forerunner to the modern day ‘convenience store’ but unlike the modern counterpart they sold nothing but various forms of food stuffs.
About the Author
GARY CUTHBERT, having grown up within the retail trade, uses his own personal knowledge and real events to write Store Wars.
He cleverly uses info-humour to tell a story based on facts with a touch of humour to keep the reader entertained.
Two versions of Store Wars have been published, one with various photos and images of the era that help set the scene, and a ‘naked’ version, without.
Previously he has written the Carter and Carter series of adventure novels.