Harold Van Buskirk on Running a Bighorn Basin Grocery Store
Harold Van Buskirk, born in 1897, was interviewed in July 1976 by volunteers from the Washakie Museum in Worland, Wyo. This excerpt was prepared for the museum’s summer 2012 exhibit about early settlers in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin, Voices of the Basin: History in their Own Words. Van Buskirk worked in a grocery store in his youth.
Well we handled originally canned goods and one time I went to Chicago, we come back with a way to decorate our store and a lot of new ideas. And one of ‘em, if you run a store like that, was to call a bunch of your customers, your good customers every morning and ask them what they’d like delivered, and we’d sent it out to ‘em. That was kind of a backward way of doing business back then, according to now. Then we would charge it and try to get your money.
Everybody bought a sack of flour. I think I had some drawers that were tin lined that pulled out with flour and maybe beans that you sacked up and sugar, rice and dry stuff like that. I think we had a counter like that if I remember right.
We used to sell quite a lot of bulk stuff, we’d buy a keg of sauerkraut in the fall and set it out in the middle of the store with a fork in it and you know, nowadays you have heat in your stores. You couldn’t have heat in the store because you didn’t have a way to refrigerate the meat you had out there. So you didn’t have any fire. You had a heavy sweater on underneath your white coat to keep warm.
Then we sold that sauerkraut and we sold bulk peanut butter, 25 pounds of peanut butter and you’d ladle that stuff out to ‘em and pickled herring and salt salmon, oh we had a lot of bulk stuff like that that we worked on in the fall. Then once in a while we would have a special shipment of fish.
And we had everything and I remember we bought octopus. There were a few Japanese around and they wanted us to buy some octopus and we did and we whacked off those tendons for them. Tentacles, I mean.
I can remember one time we just piled the window full of front quarters and hind quarters of mutton. Seventy-nine and 99, $.79 for a front quarter and $.99 for a hind quarter and we just sold scads of that stuff.
They’d come to the counter with a slip of paper and you took it and you copied it off on a pad, and then you took a basket and went around and got it all, brought it up in front and put it in a box and wrote it up and charged it.
They didn’t even sign the slip or anything, you’d just give them the duplicate. And for years and years Mable sat back there and itemized every one of those articles. 68 cents for coffee and everything.
Transcription by Washakie Museum and Cultural Center, Worland, Wyo.