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The ponderously-slow process of grocery checkout in 1970s Phoenix


I was at my local grocery store today, and used an app that allowed me to pay with my phone at the self-checkout. I had forgotten doggy treats from an earlier visit, and I was in and out of the store in just a matter of minutes. So naturally I got to thinking about old-time Phoenix, and remembered the painfully slow process of checkout at a grocery store in the 1970s, which is the first time I ever did it, in 1977.

In those days, every item had to have a price tag affixed to it, which a cashier would have to read, and punch in the numbers on a cash register, one at a time. For example, if a can of beans was twenty-nine cents, the cashier would push a two, then a nine, and then reach for the next item. And of course, many of the items had price tags that the cashier couldn't read, so someone had to go back and find out the price. At age 19 I wasn't in any kind of particular hurry, but I found this to be ponderously slow. After that process, when the groceries were totaled up, you were expected to pay with a check, in which you wrote out, in cursive, the name of the store, and the amount, plus you wrote that out as numerals, too. Then you signed it. At that point, the manager of the store would be called for, and look at you, and make sure that your home address and telephone number were printed on the check, and if the manager approved it, you got to take the groceries home. Phoenix was hot, and I rarely got home without melted ice cream.

But I remember one particular store was the first to get a new technology, which allowed the prices to be read by what I called "the beep-beep". And I still remember the blazing speed of the "beep-beep"! Groceries just flew, and I made a point of always going to that store. Of course, the rest of the process remained the same, with the writing of checks, and the manager approving them.

I left Arizona for California not long after that, after I graduated from ASU, and was always on the lookout for new technology. California is a very crowded place, and whatever technology that could be found that sped up standing in line got my vote, and my money. In the late 1980s I sought out gas stations that would allow you to "pay at the pump", and I also used ATM Machines (I think they were called Ugly Tellers back then!).

Every once in a while I hear someone wishing for the old days, and simpler times, and all I can think of is waiting and waiting, standing in line, and my ice cream melting.

Image at the top of this post: Phoenix, Arizona in 1972

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