vintage supermarket

Open Register
by Elisa Adams

In my first job, I was a cashier in the neighborhood supermarket. Scanners hadn’t been invented; you learned the price of everything, rang items by pounding raised number keys on the cash register, and made change using mental arithmetic. One day I forgot the cardinal rule, to lock the register when you go on break. When I got back I rang the next sale, popped the drawer open, and found — nothing.  Danny, the assistant manager, knew I hadn’t locked the drawer and simply took it out while I was gone. I’d never had such a shock. I also never forgot to lock anything ever again. (Later I locked my desk at the big publishing company where I worked for years, and I took the key home every night.)

Danny had no nerves. He caught one of the cashiers cheating by standing behind her unseen while she rang her boyfriend’s order by passing half the items down the conveyor belt without charging him.  When she hit the total button, Danny walked up and said, “Get out.” And out she went.

One of the stock boys claimed to be related to the Shah of Iran. Another was an all-American kid who probably grew up to be an insurance salesman. They taught me how to pack groceries using every inch of space in those boxy brown bags, and how to fold a carton of eggs in half to fit it into the bag without breaking any eggs. Sometimes when we were all working the registers at the same time, we had silent contests to see who could fit the most in a bag. It was fun if the winner’s customer complained about how heavy the bag was.

Then one summer night our supermarket burned down, and we were all dispersed to other stores.

IMAGE: Supermarket checker, 1970s. Prints available at

me in HS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elisa Adams is a freelance writer and editor with a long career in the textbook publishing industry. She has two grown daughters and lives outside New York City with a standoffish cat, and her only interaction with supermarkets today is a weekly shopping trip.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, at the time frame of the story.