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Saturday, November 21, 2020

60 Years of Memories: When Service Was Service

ON THE SQUARE

Memories of 60 Years In Butler

By James Ring

There was a time when serving the customer was an expected personal courtesy, rendered by the proprietor or his employee. Both of the participants in a transaction probably knew each other and lived nearby. You couldn’t hide from your reputation.

 So, you would be given service, without demanding it, just part of normal business dealings. If you rode in and out of Butler on the Trailways coach bus, the terminal was at Butler Super Service’s building open 24 hours a day, and you could buy a ticket on the spot. Western Union telegrams were also available at the same location. 

 If your phone was dead, you went by the United Telephone office and talked to a repairman, and he would get right on it. Or if he was on a call, the secretary would fill out a trouble slip. If you lived out in the country , the REA office would look after your “lights.” Should your electricity be out, you could call and the phone would be answered by a live person, day or night. 

 At the grocery stores, you could get as few or as many slices of bologna as you wanted, cut from a big 10-pound chub, wrapped up in white butcher paper and tied with a string. Hamburger was ground to order as needed. The A&P store would grind your coffee beans after you selected them. And if you wanted to call in your grocery order, it could be delivered by the store’s truck, right to your kitchen. 

 Banking service was about as personal as you could get. The banker knew you, and you knew him. There wasn’t a lot of paperwork in their dealings; if you were a good risk, you got the loan. If your soiled reputation had preceded you, you might need a co-signer. There was no committee meeting or financial statement involved.

 Personal service extended to the drug store where a special order item could be brought in on the next truck, or by the next mail. And mail delivery was twice daily around the Square, as the Post Office had two trucks bringing the mail through each day. If you were new in town or just here temporarily, your mail could be sent to “general delivery” so it would held at the post office until you called for it. 

 At Levy’s or Penney’s ready-to-wear department, alterations would be included with the garment. A bit of custom tailoring would improve your fit. And if your shoes needed stretching or resoled, Smith’s shoe shop would fix them right up. A lot of woolen clothes needed dry-cleaning and pressing, so Herb and Lena Anderson’s shop (just demolished this month) would do the job. If you needed laundry and ironing done, it would be available at the Laundramat.

 And of course, service stations did indeed give service. Your car got attention, from radiator to tail lights, when it was in the bay. Autos needed care back then, with frequent wheel bearing packing, differential and U-joint lubrication and probably plugs and points changed every so often. The floorboards would be vacuumed out and the chrome polished when you got it back.

 Is service a lost art? Perhaps, in the sense that we don’t want to pay extra for it, accepting instead a thankless transaction through a distant internet or 800-number connection. But when you do get a warm personal touch with your business dealings, appreciate it for it is. The kindness shown by one person to another is what really finishes the deal.