Good Old Clerking Days

Merchandising has come a long way from the days of the general store, as recalled here in the

1930s files of the Works Progress Administration from the Nebraska State Historical Society.

“I have often thought of those good old days when Henry and I sold $2 shoes for a dollar a

foot. I believe Henry occasionally slept in the store on a tick filled with the original straw

that broke the camel’s back. A few corn husks and a cob or two got mixed in with the straw–

but it was a bed just the same.

“When Henry first began operations in the store my father’s partner was Charley Tigges, a

mighty fine fellow, but he kept us busy. There never was a dull moment. If I leaned on the

broom for a minute or laid the feather duster aside, just to get a breathing spell, Charley

would delegate me to catching flies and putting them into a new patent fly trap which we

would park in the display window to boost the sale of the traps.

“Speaking of display windows, in those days our store’s windows were like Woolworth’s

today, only the arrangement wasn’t as good. We would pack each window with all kinds of

jimcracks. Passersby could spend an entire afternoon or evening looking into those windows.

“Nothing was lacking in the display. We had sunbonnets, garden rakes, writing tablets,

underwear, stick candy, flower seeds, gum boots and maybe some leaflets from Henry

George, great promoter of the single tax idea.

“Frank Riif, well-known farmer, would ‘admire’ the display and swear to all on high that it

was the finest he had ever seen–that nothing like it ever was attempted in Prairie du Chien,

Wis., where he hailed from. And what Frank didn’t know about window dressing wouldn’t

make a big book.

“Maybe Henry recalls the time a fleshy woman from Menominee inquired about a corset.

Henry asked her, ‘What bust?’ and she replied, ‘Nothing, it’s just worn out.’

“Those good old clerking days. Yep, a pair of shoe laces ‘thrown in’ with every pair of

brogans, and ‘free’ suspenders with each pair of pants.”

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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