All Sackers to the Front!

Five words that you’ll never hear at your local Super Store
by Greg Phillips

Having been raised in the Dora/Sumiton Area in the 50s & 60s, I was fortunate to have gotten my very first job at the Piggly Wiggly. It was located just above Dodd’s store on Main Street in Sumiton where I think a carpet store is now located. When looking at that building now it doesn’t seem very big at all, but in my youth it was a monster building that turned average 16-year old boys into white shirt/tie wearing ice cream stockers, empty soft drink bottle separators (this job could get nasty) and most importantly– grocery sackers (yes, this included carrying sacks to the customer’s cars).

Greg Phillips

I would like briefly touch on each job in an attempt to fully explain:

16-year old white shirt/tie wearers- It was required that each and every Piggly Wiggly Sacker wear a white shirt and tie. Most of us only owned one or two of these shirts and they were worn only on Sunday—certainly not Saturday at the Pig, but it was a requirement in order to earn the lofty 89 cents per hour. I was lucky with ties. My Dad had to wear one every day, so I would always borrow one of his work ties. Back then, those ties were clip-ons. In fact, when I got to the army in 1969, we called them “riot ties”. They were called “riot ties” because if someone grabbed it during a riot, it would simply pull away from the shirt and you could avoid getting strangled. Amusingly enough, these ties worked just as well with irate Piggly Wiggly customers who had discovered their bread was crushed!

Ice Cream Box Stocker- The Ice Box in the Piggly Wiggly sat just behind Mr. Lester Walker’s office. Mr. Walker was one of the owners and managed the store. This box was only six feet wide and around four feet deep. During the summer when Mr. Walker ran an Ice Milk special- 4/$1.00, it would drive you crazy trying to keep the freezer full. The weather was typically 90 degrees and wouldn’t you know it everyone bought at least 4 ½ gallons of Ice Milk. Since the Freezer was so close to Mr. Walker’s office, he made it his personal mission to keep this box full. This meant that every sacker employed in the store got his time in the box. The most popular flavor in my hometown was “Napoleon Ice Milk”, which after careful examination was really Neopolitan. This flavor was Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry in the carton. Today, when I shop for ice cream, I still smile when I see that flavor.

Empty soft drink bottle separator. In the sixties, we still used refillable bottles, which in retrospect was good because today, our streets and roadways are littered with cans and plastic bottles. Anyway, there was a bottle return up front for customers to turn in their bottles and receive an 18-cent credit on each six-pack returned. That’s right, you could earn a three-cent credit for each returned bottle. If you didn’t bring your empty bottles back, it cost you an extra 18 cents at check-out (that is, if you purchased soft drinks and everyone did). The problem with these returnable bottles was that someone had to separate them and make them suitable for pick-up by the soft drink suppliers. Talk about a nasty job! There was no telling what you’d find in one of these bottles. Bugs, small snakes, cigarette butts, snuff and chewing tobacco (the used kind of course) had a way of finding themselves into bottles. No self-respecting sacker wanted to have to go the rear of the building to do this chore, but we all had our time in the “Bottle House” as I think it was called. This job was even worse in the summer, because in addition to the disgusting treasures you’d find in the bottles, you had to battle the bees and yellow jackets that were drawn to them because of the sweet syrup smell that the bottles had. Luckily, this arduous chore did prepare me for the army’s Kitchen Patrol (KP). After working in the bottle house with that white shirt and tie, KP was like a walk in the park or rather down the Ice cream isle.

Grocery Sacker- Last but not least, the best job a sixteen-year old could have was sacking groceries in one of our two supermarkets. Back then, it was either cut grass (if you could find someone who could afford it) or get lucky and land a job sacking groceries for 89 cents an hour. This job really prepared us all for the future because we had to learn how to interface with all types of folks. Most folks were only interested in just making sure their groceries were packed in the paper sacks properly. In fact, a job well done could result in a quarter or more tip from a satisfied customer. When I first started sacking groceries, other sackers would come up to me and say, “Gee, you look awful tired, why don’t you let me carry these out for you?” After the first two days on the job, I finally figured out that my fellow sackers weren’t helping “poor, tired Greg”; they were helping themselves to my tips! I guess I lost at least a couple of dollars in learning this valuable lesson. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. It never happened again. A veteran sacker would watch the known tippers as they shopped, and when the shopper checked out, the sacker would be there smiling like you wouldn’t believe. Anything to get that quarter–or if you got lucky–a 50-cent piece, if for some reason they didn’t have a quarter. We still had 50-cent pieces in abundance back then. I remember an eight-hour Saturday when I picked up an extra $5.00 from tips. If you add that to the $7.12 you made in a shift, you had a pretty profitable day.

All joking aside, the objective of all sackers was to get the customers in and out of the store as fast as possible and make sure that they were all satisfied. I think we all did a really great job in reaching this goal. I can remember days where folks would be backed up from the checkout counters to the meat department waiting to check out in one of the five checkout lanes. Most of the time, we had two sackers on each checkout counter and believe me, there was no time for fooling around between customers. You were there to do your job, rain or shine. If you had to get soaked in the rain, then you got just got soaked. This usually meant a trip to Dr. Green’s office across the street from the store the following Monday for most of us.

I think of all those good old days–especially when I go to a Supermarket that employs no sackers for bagging your groceries and helping you get them to the car. Most of these places don’t even have paper sacks anymore. They use plastic bags that generally won’t hold much at all. You end up with 20 bags for 20 items. This is not very efficient in my thinking. If you ever get the chance to shop at a grocery store that still offers real paper sacks and real sackers please give them an opportunity to service you. If you’re careful in your shopping you can still get real bargains in these stores and also help mold young people into hopefully solid future citizens.

One last story and I’ll close. One busy Saturday afternoon at the Pig, one of our veteran sackers was so intensely focused on sacking a lady’s groceries that he failed to notice that she was standing way too close to him. She was watching over him intently as he sacked her groceries and he was so focused on the task that he accidentally stuck his hand down her blouse. To this day I still don’t know who was the most shocked!!!

So, do yourself a favor and find yourself a grocery store that still offers a sacking and carryout service. Maybe you too can experience those words that Mr. Walker used to shout over the intercom all those years ago, “ALL SACKERS TO THE FRONT!”

Leave a Reply