Lucky to have been there Autobiography, Career, Recipes 6 Comments

I was looking through Sigurd Johnsen’s recipe box this afternoon and ran across  a clipping from the Los Angeles Times dated Monday, December 27, 1971.  On the old browned newsprint was a picture and recipe for a dessert called Parisian Egg Nog Wreath, a rather glamorous cream puff.  Although the recipe and accompanying article were somewhat intriguing, what really caught my eye was on the other side of the clipping.  It was half of an ad for a grocery store in the Los Angeles area called The Boys Market.  Having spent my entire career in the grocery industry, I was surprised that I was not familiar with The Boys Markets, but that does not really matter.  What matters is what has changed over the last 45 years in the grocery industry.  If you look at any of the pricing on the December 1971 ad, and if you do any shopping now, there is a whopping difference in retail pricing.


When I started working, it was for Lucky Stores in Northern California.  Lucky #59 was located on Bascom Avenue in San Jose and the parking lot was located on  Bascom Avenue in Santa Clara.  An older store had burned to the ground, because neither fire department thought they had jurisdiction, as the story goes.  Back then, you bought your groceries at the grocery store.  Now you can buy groceries almost anywhere.  Back then you had to do a little planning ahead because the stores didn’t open until 9:00 AM and closed at 9:00 PM.  10:00 AM to 7:00 PM on the weekends.  The stores were all closed on holidays.  If it wasn’t in your pantry the night before Thanksgiving Day, it wouldn’t be on the table for Thanksgiving dinner.  Now we are amazed if the store is not open 24/7.


Lucky Stores, with me in tow, was the parent company for Gemco, which due to a hostile takeover bid was absorbed into Target.  Lucky was bought by American Stores, but the name remained.  Later on, Albertsons bought Lucky and did their darnedest  to obliterate the Lucky name from the planet.  Finally Save Mart Supermarkets bought the Albertsons stores in Northern California, retaining the rights to the Lucky name, and Lucky Stores came back to life in the San Francisco Bay area once again.  As we speak, a number of the Save Mart stores are being converted over to the Lucky name.

I was a grocery clerk.  I was a store manager.  I was a buyer.  I was a category manager.  I was a district supervisor.  My life has always been tied, hand in hand, with food and with the people that make the grocery industry work.  Looking back on my career, I can truly say I have been Lucky.


Comments 6

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      Thank you, Kit. It really is amazing how the industry has changed. When I started out there were no computers. None of the systems were linked. Everything had to be price marked, because there were no scan bars. There were no plastic bags. There was no soft fruit in the winter. There were deposits on all of the Coke and Pepsi bottles, and you returned them to the store so they could be recycled. There were S&H and Blue Chip Stamps. Nobody had heard of yogurt or bottled water. Who would pay for water in a bottle?!!! Everything was in glass – bleach, ammonia, juice, etc.
      Tide wasn’t “New and Improved” yet. A quart of ice cream was a quart. A quart of mayonnaise was a quart. Now a 20 pound bag of Kingsford Charcoal is something like 16.5 pounds, and much more expensive! I could go on and on……….

  1. I, too was a Lucky lifer, and primarily in technology although enjoyed the several years learning the grocery business in Retail Efficiencies with Save Mart. Which I was Lucky to work with you!

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      Hi, Valerie. Thanks for checking out the site. I’m new at this so it is moving along slowly. It was nice hearing from you. Check back if you have any feedback.

  2. Do I recall correctly that one of your customers at the Bascom Avenue Store misread your ID badge and got in the habit of calling you “Lem The Clerk?” (Did that actually happen or did my imagination make that up from the fuzzy days of the late 60s?) Over the years, we have gotten to know the people who serve us across the check stand counter; they are nice people and longstanding members of our community. One of the things I notice in my neighborhood grocery store is the offensive growth of the self-checkout stations. I actually take that as an insult to the employees of the store — and a threat to their jobs. I refuse to use the self checkout for that reason. Perhaps, if the self-checkout idea had taken root back at the end of the 60s, the opportunity for Lem The Clerk to become a store manager, and the rest of your illustrious career, could have been thwarted. I salute you and your long career in the food business (a product line that is near and dear to my heart). I urge your readers to join me in boycotting the self-checkout stations. Maybe someone could make T-shirts that say, “Support Lem The Clerk — avoid the self-checkout station.”

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      Lem the Clerk came from a story about a guy that came into the store and wanted to cash a phony payroll check. I think I was about 18 years old then, maybe younger, maybe older. He had evidently been casing the store earlier and saw my name badge that said “LEW” and later came in saying he was good friends with Lem the Clerk, Needless to say, he did not get his payroll check cashed, but I was dubbed with LEM the CLERK for a very long time. It got to be standard procedure, if someone was trying to pass a questionable check, to get on the store intercom and call for a “CHECK OKAY, LEM!” As far as the self checkouts go, I don’t mind them, but they are not being monitored the way they were intended to be. There is no one there to help the customer when something freezes up the transaction, and there is no one there when the less than honest customer is putting filet mignon on the scale and ringing it up as pinto beans at $0.99 per pound. I know there are company procedures for all of that, but just go into any chain and watch. Procedures are not being followed because it takes labor dollars and the store managers are done hearing about labor dollars. Good is never good enough in retail, and it probably never will be. You loosen your slack, someone else will grab it before you realize what you have lost. If you do make those T-shirts, make mine XXL. Don’t let the self checkouts get to you. There are many more important issues. Thank you, my brother.

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