Uncle Bill’s Store

I have a couple of Uncle Bills. You’ve already met one of them; today I’m writing about the other one,who is my mom’s other sister’s husband.  (Try to keep up; I know it’s complicated.)  This one is known by nearly the whole rest of the world as “Troupie”, and he and his brother owned a country grocery store in a little, rural crossroads of a blink-and-you-miss-it village called Seven Stars. 

Most everyone called the store “Troupie’s”, but its real name was Troup Bros.  The store had everything – produce, groceries, cigarettes and snuff, a nice deli and butcher section,  and our favorite aisle, which was the one with toys and candy. Remember candy cigars? They carried them in green, pink and yellow.  Wax lips and baseball cards, too. One could also browse a couple of rows of hardware items (this was before the days of the giant hardware stores) and I think there may have even been some work clothing and boots.  There was also a display of greeting cards that, as far as I could tell, never really changed.  Outside, you could get bags of ice, lose coins in the Coke machine, and fill your tank with gasoline. For a small middle-of-nowhere outlet, they had it all.

Across the street, they also owned a two-bay car wash that worked most of the time. Also, there was The Country Store, which had gifts and knick-knacks and collectibles and silk flower arrangements and more greeting cards, plus wrapping paper, toys, and more clothes, including Wrangler and Maverick jeans, sweatshirts emblazoned with the high school’s Wildcat logo, and day-glo hunting gear. It was like a countrified five-and-dime.

When I was finally old enough to go to work, I knew I wanted to work at Uncle Bill’s Store, and not just because I had an in with the boss it was really the only alternative to being a lifeguard at the pool. I knew I wanted nothing to do with that nonsense; I preferred being fully clothed while earning an hourly wage.  And so it was that I began working as a cashier and stock clerk a few hours each week.

The first thing I had to learn was how to operate the keypad on the cash register with my right hand while moving groceries down the belt with my left. I’m all lefty, so this was backwards for me, but I got the hang of it.  Note to anyone born after 1980: This was years before all products had a bar code on the packaging; we used “price guns” to apply a price sticker to every item, and I had to key the number on the sticker into the cash register. Using my right hand, did I mention that?

Uncle Bill and his brother were determined to make this something of a learning experience for me, and so for produce and milk, whose prices fluctuated depending on the market, I was required to memorize the correct prices. A head of lettuce, for example, could be $0.79 one week and $0.69 the next. I had to keep the lettuce price in my head, along with the price for tomatoes, celery, carrots and onions.

We accepted manufacturer’s cents-off coupons and redeemed them for face value. (No doubling ever.) Another task of mine was to count the week’s coupons and tally them on a redemption slip. I would separate them into piles by denomination, then list, say, 4 x 5 cents, 8 x 10 cents, 21 x 15 cents, 14 x 20 cents, and so on. Uncle Bill and his brother could look at that sheet, mumble a bit while doing the the math in their head and it would be right every time. They thought it would be swell if I would learn to do the same thing… I never mastered it like they did. I’m a calculator girl.

For bagging the groceries, customers could request paper or PAPER, or opt to reuse boxes in which canned goods had been packed.  I learned to pack cold foods with other cold foods, crushable things like bread, potato chips, and eggs together, and to put heavier canned goods on the bottom and lighter boxed items on the top. To this day, I organize my groceries in this way as I unload them onto the belt.

The employees who worked back in the deli made really good American-style hoagies, by which I mean a fluffy white sub roll topped with bologna and ham and American cheese slices, with lettuce, tomato, sprinkled with secret seasonings (oregano and celery salt).  I would begin my Saturday shift by inhaling a hoagie and a bag of Middleswarth potato chips.

There was a smaller grocery store in the closest town, about 5 miles away, and two larger grocery stores in the town after that, maybe a 15 minute drive. But you could get what you needed at Troupie’s.  My grandma Losch lived up the hill and would call down to have Troupie bring up whatever items she needed to fix dinner.  “Put it on my slip,” she would say, and she meant to write it on her store account. And that was another cool thing: people had account books, kept in the drawer below each register, and Uncle Bill would extend credit to those who needed it. When people got paid, they would come in and bring cash to apply to their accounts.   More than a few people consistently owed more than they ever paid, but as long as they paid something, Uncle Bill was cool about it.

On payday, they would run my hours x my hourly rate on an adding machine tape, subtract taxes, then pay me right out of the cash drawer, placing the bills and coins into a tiny paper bag, the same one we used to hold screws and nails, with the adding machine tape stapled to the outside of the bag. Forget going to the bank – it was instant cash-a-rama!

And that’s the story of my first job. I learned a lot there about good work habits and customer service and honesty and yes, even math.  The store’s been closed for years but I have such fun memories of my years there.

13 thoughts on “Uncle Bill’s Store

  1. When Uncle Bill and his brother AND sister owned the store (it was called Troup Brothers and Benner then) they were the third generation to own it. They later bought out the sister’s share. The fourth generation was the last to own it.
    Do you remember that on your first day of work, someone asked you if you were a Losch? (Readers, that was my maiden name.) Or did they just ask if you were my daughter? You came home and said you couldn’t get away from the family –or something like that. (Feel free to edit , Soup.) You did learn a lot, didn’t you?

  2. To MegsMom- I could be in a crowd the size of Woodstock and have some totally unfamiliar person dash up and say, “Are you Chesapeake Bay Mother’s daughter?” OR they will say “Are you a member of the XYZ family?” It’s true, you can’t get away from family.

    Meg – What an awesome job and an incredible experience. Do you have pictures of this store?

    There is still a store here in Mathews who runs accounts for people who can’t pay right away. I’ll take you by it when you’re here, and rest assured you’ll love it.

    I think we need wax lips for blog fest.

  3. CBW, loved your coments.
    Also, sometimes when I was at the store I would pay off Grandma’s tab, and make them promise not to say who did it.

  4. Oh, also. Ages ago, when I was a little girl and I would go there with my mother, and they were across the road, where the Country Store was located, Grandma would have to ask Uncle Bill to get what she wanted, like corn flakes, or whatever, and he would reach high on the shelf with one of those “reachy” things, and get it down. And when it wa time to total the bill, he did it by hand on a piece of cardboard, without a cash register. Always had it right, too.

  5. Thanks mom – I knew there was an “& Benner” but couldn’t remember why. I had forgotten about how we ALL would pay off Grandma’s tab. She’d get so peeved that no one would say who did it! Yes, I learned a whole lot from that job, and not just how to gracefully say, why yes, I AM a Losch! And not that I wasn’t proud of that or anything, it just took me a while to understand that there was simply no anonymity in a small town. (Interestingly, there’s less and less of that in my current town, too.)

    CBW – Wax lips it is! I have a whole list going. I don’t have any photos that I know of – at least not of the outside. The building is still there but last I saw it, it was a thrift store or something or other…

  6. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I loved the smell of the hardware section. I can recall the whole layout. Best grocery store hoagies ever. Don’t forget the bake-n-eat stromboli! The frozen stuff would get put into a smaller brown paper bag, remember? And we also returned our 16-oz Coke bottles there. I loved the Country Store too. There were lots of clothes there, and I liked to smell all the scented candles. I also liked getting grape or orange sodas out of the vending machines at the car wash.

    Yes indeed, as a clever sweatshirt once put it, Seven Stars is the Place.

  7. Hi Meg and Meg’s mom,
    Here on the other side of the Atlantic we too get identified by our families, some times many years later. I am now living in Cardiff, Wales, more than a hundred miles from the town where I was born (Nottingham UK) and only last year when my maiden name was mentioned a man asked “Are you Jack F,s daughter?”
    When I confirmed that I was, he spent over an hour telling me how my father had trained him in 1947!
    We have remained in touch by email and telephone
    Small world isn’t it?
    I can remember stores like your uncle Bill’s from when I was growing up. Supermarkets don’t smell the same do they?

  8. Bets – yes, the stromboli was good – I make a version of that now, though smaller. I forgot about returning the coke bottles.

    Granny Anne – welcome and thanks for your comment! I actually am recognized for both sides of my family – in fact, just 2 years ago I went into a post office about 30 minutes from where I grew up, with my two year old son tagging along – the woman behind the counter asked me if I was “Mary T’s cousin”! – Turns out, she and my cousin were friends when I was about the age as my son was that day, and she had spent time with me when Mary was babysitting me. My son looks exactly like me. I suppose he’ll get “are you Meg’s son” for years to come!

  9. This thread is hilarious to me, because I bear no genetic similarity to my son. Instead, when we go out, I am likely to hear, “Is that Jae?” or “Are you Jae’s mom?” It’s like hanging out with a rock star. Don’t ask me how so many people around here know my 4-yr-old already!

    Meg, stromboli recipe, s’il te plait?

  10. Bets – awesome. He’s famous!

    Stromboli – you make (or buy) a bread dough… roll it out, fill it with salami, cooked deli ham, pepperoni, mozzarella and/or provolone cheese (don’t skimp on the cheese!). Sprinkle with some oregano. Seal edges. Bake as a pizza. Buy a can of Don Pepino pizza sauce to use for the marinara dip. Super-easy and the kids love it!

  11. Just this AM I was jotting something down and happened to look at the pen because I thought, “I’ve had this pen for a long time. Where’d I get it?” Checked out the ad on it, and you guessed it. It was a Troup Brothers promo pen.

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