This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Why free delivery was so important to old-time Phoenix


Yesterday I learned about plans for a grocery store to be built in downtown Phoenix. I'm interested in the history of Phoenix, and it really doesn't matter to me if it's 1905 or 2016. I'm fascinated at how my favorite city has grown, and how it continues to change.

If you're a Phoenix old-timer like me, and remember way back before Light Rail, visiting downtown Phoenix nowadays is just astonishing. There's a lot of cool stuff there now, including condos, restaurants, and just about everything that people need to live and work downtown. But what's missing is free delivery.

When I mention free delivery, most people just give me a blank stare. And that's just because our minds are stuck in how things work in the modern world. Time travel with me.

Let's time travel back to Phoenix in 1905, and the first thing I'm going to take away from you is your car. Sure, some people have cars, but we don't. We ride the trolley to get where we need to go, and we also have bicycles. Now imagine going to a grocery store.

The trolley goes right to the store. Do you have your list? Great! Let's go shopping. We walk up to the counter, show the list to the clerk, who goes and finds the stuff we need and then we leave, empty-handed. Actually, we're carrying some peppermint sticks, but that's all. We jump on the trolley and go home. I'm a little gimpy, leaning on my walking cane, so I appreciate your waiting up for me.

Later that day our groceries are delivered. For free. We give the delivery person a tip, but that's it.

This type of thing went away with the invention of "Cash and Carry" stores. Note the word "carry"  - where you went to a store and were expected to carry your purchases away. Of course people with cars, or buckboards, could do this, but most people had no way of transporting their own stuff. You really couldn't carry much on a trolley (although people tried!) or on a bicycle (although again, people tried!).

Cash and Carry stores took over. So much so that nowadays most people can't imagine going into a store and leaving empty-handed. Of course, free delivery costs, and the prices of the stores that offered it were at a disadvantage compared to stores that didn't. And over the years the cost of transporting stuff became cars, parking lots, gasoline, and all of the things that nowadays most people don't consider to cost anything. But they really do cost a lot. And the solution to crowded parking lots and congested streets is free delivery. It's the missing piece of the puzzle that made all the difference when Phoenix was more a "human scale".

Thank you for history adventuring with me.


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