Category Archives: grocery stores

Remember The Plastic Pop Top?

I was fiddling around with the lid to my Diet Pepsi bottle the other day and got to thinking about the old plastic pop bottle tops. This was an item that was probably in every home up until about 30 years ago, but has now disappeared almost completely. Back in the seventies pop was sold in bottles with metal bottle caps that had to be popped off using a bottle opener. Once the bottle cap was removed it was unusable for resealing the bottle. Leaving the bottle uncapped allowed the carbonation to escape and the pop went flat. In order to fix this problem a simple little gadget was invented, a plastic reusable bottle cap.

bottlecaps

Some of the caps were used as promotional items and had the name of the bottler painted on it. Other caps were sold in packages at department stores in their housewares department or at grocery stores in their pop aisle. There were plain round ones and then there were ones with “tails”. The tail was a thin strip of plastic connected to a plastic collar that was placed around the neck of the bottle. This allowed the consumer to open the plastic top without fear of losing it.

The plastic pop top was made obsolete by the screw top pop bottle. Every cap was now a resealable bottle cap. In addition to the plastic pop tops, “church keys”, the bottle openers that popped off the old caps or poked holes in the old pre-pull tab cans depending on which end you used also soon went missing. The market tried to sell a redesigned bottle opener that fit down around the twist off caps and assisted in twisting them off. This didn’t last too long as the caps became easier to unscrew and people learned to use pliers on the bottles that remained contrary.

I miss those days. I also miss the old metal pop tops that had a thin layer of cork inside them as well. Drinks just seemed to taste better coming out of these bottles. The bottlers also used to place removable plastic liners inside the metal tops with game pieces or prizes on them. Now days the information is printed directly inside the screw off cap or on the back of the thin drink label wrapped around the bottle.

We Didn’t Have Warning Labels

I was looking through a box of junk with my wife the other day. The box was about the size of a shoe box and it was filled with old bubble gum machine, Cracker Jack, and cereal box prizes. When I was a kid everything seemed to have a free prize. There were drinking glasses given away inside of boxes of laundry detergent, your Esso fill up got you a spiffy puzzle featuring a scene from America’s history, and your breakfast cereal came with a toy (or a record album that you clipped off the back of the cereal box).

One of the toys we found in the box was an aircraft carrier. It was really cool. It was two to three inches long and had a rubber band inside that launched the tiny little aircraft off the ship’s deck. Can you imagine anyone putting such an item inside of a cereal box these days? First off the planes were so small they could easily be swallowed. Secondly they could be launched.

Toys with launching rockets were a staple of my childhood. The Shogun Warriors and Micronauts all had rockets, fists, or some other part that would shoot off of the toy and fly through the air before smashing into the bad guy or an obstacle like a wall. Our biggest fear was losing these small parts if they launched and rolled into a crack in the floor or got lost in the grass. All of this changed after one four-year old kid shot a toy missile into his mouth and choked to death. Suddenly toys could no longer contain spring-loaded launching mechanisms. Eventually any toy with a part that might possibly fit inside a child’s mouth had to be given a warning label that it contained a potential choking hazard. But keep in mind this aircraft carrier that I played with wasn’t sold as a toy to begin with. It was packed inside of a plastic bag and placed inside of a box of cereal that was sold for children to eat. If a cereal company attempted this today they would need a warning label the size of a Buick on the box and even then some parent would still end up suing them.

A decade or so back Nestle tried selling a product called a Nestle Magic Ball. It was a hollow plastic ball that split into two halves and contained a Disney toy inside of it. It was like a plastic Easter egg. The difference was that the ball was covered in chocolate, so the child would eat the chocolate and then open the ball and find the toy surprise. The product was quickly removed from the market only to be replaced by the infinitely inferior Nestle Wonder Ball which switched out the toy for some hard candy. Even Cracker Jack doesn’t have decent prizes any longer. All of the prizes are paper based and pretty lame even at that.

The only prize delivery system that still seems to operate with anything resembling what it was back in the good old days appears to be the gumball machine. The prices are significantly higher these days, but the prizes are still something that a child of today can drop inside a shoebox and look back on fondly twenty to thirty years from now. Some of the prizes are actually pretty cool. There is a series of rubbery animal pencil toppers that are cute and collectible. Homies can still be found in some machines. About a year or two ago Freaky Geeks showed up in several machines locally. I’ve also noticed tiny Domo figures. I’m sorry that lawsuits have ended the days of cool food premiums (unless you want to talk Happy Meal prizes), but at least I know my fifty cents can still get a decent gumball prize. Of course when I was a kid those gumball machines were a penny, a nickel, or a quarter, but when it comes to prices, truly nothing ever stays the same.

We Had Two Things As Kids

My son grew up in a world with 24/7 cartoons and video games. My daughter was able to add the Internet to her childhood toolkit. When I was a kid we only had cartoons on Saturday morning and perhaps an hour or so early on other mornings and an hour or so with Mister Cartoon after school. Video games, home systems that is, wouldn’t come along until High School. As for the Internet, we were years away from even bulletin boards, much less full-blown websites. We basically had two things as kids: books and our imaginations.

Now don’t get me wrong, we had toys. We had G.I. Joe, Mego, Shogun Warriors, Micronauts, Aurora model kits, and all sorts of other playthings. The difference is that our toys didn’t do anything unless you used your imagination. We could make Biotron fly and Mazinga battle Godzilla, but only through the art of pretending. For those of you too young to understand what this means, we would hold our little Micronaut up in the air and make flying noises with our mouths as we did loops or went running out in a playground with the toy held out and held high. We would take our figures, one in each hand, and have them do battle with one another by beating the two pieces of plastic against each other. One hand would hold the attacking toy while the other hand-held the toy that about to get hit. After a thunderous blow, the other toy would be lifted up and retaliate. Sometimes both hands would move the two toys at each other simultaneously causing both of them to go flying backwards. All sound effects were created by us, and the outcome of the battle was whatever storyline we wanted to tell. Unless one of the toys broke. Then we improvised. “Oh no, Johnny West hit G.I. Joe so hard that his arms both flew off.”

Model kits also required us to use our imaginations, but they did have instruction sheets. I loved figure kits. One of my friends loved car models. Another friend had tons of dinosaur models. You would get a cardboard box with a gorgeous painting of what the kit should look like on the front. Sometimes the sides had actual pictures of professionally assembled and painted kits. When you opened the box there were plastic trees with little numbered parts on them. Usually they were all molded in a single color, normally the dominant color of the figure. The Wolfman would be in brown. Godzilla would be in dark green. Some kits had additional glow in the dark parts or they had clear or chromed parts, especially for cars.

I kept my Aurora kits on my dresser or on a shelf in my closet. In the closet, the glow in the dark parts would light up when I shut the closet door. My friend with all of the Aurora Prehistoric Scenes kits had a special wooden platform in his basement. His dad had made it for him so he could connect their bases and set them up on display like a prehistoric train set. He used to pretend that at bedtime he could talk to them on a toy walkie-talkie that he had. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen and swore that one day, I would fix up something like that for myself.

The other thing we had, as I stated, was books. We had comic books, paperbacks, and magazines. Back then everybody seemed to sell comic books. You could buy them at the drug store, the newsstand, bus stations, grocery stores, convenience stores, department stores, and other places as well. I had lots of comics, but it wasn’t until I picked up Kamandi #9 while on vacation at King’s Island that I became a true collector. The front cover showed these people in a hot air balloon fighting giant bats. It looked so amazing that I had to buy it. I bought it, read it, and decided that I would have to find the next issue when it came out. Since I had never seen this book before, I assumed that I was holding the first issue. When I got home, I was shocked to find issue #8 at my local 7-11 (which was literally open from 7 AM until 11 PM at the time). When I realized that I had actually missed the first seven issues, I was shocked and devastated, but I kept looking for them. Eventually I ordered the missing issues from an ad I found for back issues comics by mail. I still have every issue of Kamandi to this day.

We also had paperback books and magazines to entertain us. I’ve mentioned all the monster magazines that I used to buy, but there were other mags as well. Car Toons and Surf Toons featured cartoons about cars and surfing. Marvel and Warren publishing both had black and white comic magazines and there were numerous humor magazines as well. Mad is still around, but there was also Sick, Cracked, Crazy, and the National Lampoon. The Lampoon was a bit more adult, but I still managed to get almost every issue from around #96 up and a local newsagent even sold me a huge collection of back issues which included the very first issue.

Paperbacks also entertained us as kids, and at a fairly bargain rate. I picked up all of the Planet of the Apes books for between 50 and 95 cents each. I also had a bunch of superhero books, Star Trek fotonovels, and other titles. Two of my prized possessions at the time were a pair of oversized hardcovers dedicated to talking solely about horror movies. I always wanted a copy of the Ray Harryhausen Scrapbook, but it was too expensive at the time. I finally picked up a copy years later at a used bookstore and I replaced my copies of the two horror movie books (as well as a third one I picked up later) off eBay. I don’t know why I had gotten rid of my copies in the first place, but I was glad to have them back.

The Way We Were

One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about what it was like being a child in the late sixties/early seventies. Today’s kids are used to going to the grocery store, scanning their frequent shopper card, and then paying for their purchase with a credit or debit card. When I was a kid you didn’t need a frequent shopper card to get the sale price or earn bonus discounts. The sale prices were clearly posted if the store hadn’t already reticketed all of the sale items with a sale price sticker. Oh, and everybody got the sale price, not just the shoppers with the card. After you checked out and paid with cash, the cashier would hand you a receipt and a handful of either Top Value or S&H Green Stamps. These sticky little pieces of paper were collected into a book which you could take to a special shop that would convert your stamps into a gift based on the value of the stamps you had accumulated. You could get a lamp or a toaster or a table. If you saved up enough you could get larger items as well.

By the time I was a kid, payment was definitely by cash. There were a few people who used checks, but they were few and far between in WV. Credit cards hadn’t arrived yet in any real force either as far as I recall. Mom got her check, cashed it, and paid for everything with cash. If we bought something by mail, we got a money order. The thing is, twenty years earlier, Mom would have simply walked into the locally owned grocery store, gathered her items, and the store would have added everything up and put it on her bill. When Dad would get paid, they would go down to the grocery store and pay their bill. Can you imagine doing that today? Sure a few rural Mom & Pop stores will let their regulars run a tab, but try getting Walmart or Krogers to let you leave without anything but a verbal promise to pay on check day. There’s one other big difference I’ve noticed as well. Back then when the shopper told the shopkeep that they would pay them on payday, that bill was the first thing those people took care of. I watched two stores in Gandeeville go out of business last year partly because of unpaid bills from regulars they had let run up a tab.

Another major change in shopping from when I was young involves the hours of operation. Most stores were not open on Sundays. No grocery stores, no department stores, no gasoline stations. The only exception might have been a drug store. People were expected to be in church on Sunday morning and visiting with family or relaxing at home the rest of the day. If you wanted to go out, you could go see a movie. By the time I really started paying attention, there were a few additional stores open. I remember going out to eat at BBF or Burger Chef on Sunday afternoons before or after seeing a movie. Teays Valley was one of the final holdouts on the Sunday business hours. They enforced these “blue laws” well up into my grade school years. What changed their minds? Hecks opened a store and wanted to open it for business seven days a week. I have been told that quite a bit of money was spent in getting the city to change its mind. However it came to pass, once the genie was out of the bottle, Sunday just became another day of commerce. People talk about the drop in church attendance and always want to point to taking prayer out of the schools. I think the real reason is they gave people a choice of things to do on Sunday. If the only places you could go to get out of the house were church and the houses of family members, you went to church and visited with the aunts and uncles.