Grocery Shopping in the 1950s

While my mom and I were poor and lived in a poor area of Detroit, we enjoyed life by making do with bare necessities. In Detroit in the 1950s, you were not alone. Neighbors shared whatever they could and contributed to the well being of their neighbors. As kids, we learned to make stuff out of other people’s trash.

There were no big chain grocery stores then, maybe one big supermarket nearby, but we had mostly mom and pop stores scattered throughout the neighborhoods were you could purchase groceries, candy, cigarettes, beer, or toilet paper.

There were two big bakeries in Detroit back then that produced the majority of the bread we ate. One was the Wonderbread bakery and the other was the Silvercup bread company. While Wonderbread was the larger, Silvercup was the last of the “grocery store” bakers and Silvercup bread still had those irregular holes that proved it was REAL bread. My favorite bread when I was growing up was Silvercup. Each loaf of SilverCup was made with one pint of milk. Or so it was claimed. The epitome of gluttonous, was to come home from the Saturday Matinee at the Mars Theater and find the 5 cent piece mom had placed on the kitchen table. That mobilized me to run across the street to Maggie’s Grocery store and buy 6 skinny slices of Bologna. The only dilemma was,, do I make two sandwiches with three slices of bologna or do I make three sandwiches with two slices. Mustard? Catchup? Forget it. We seldom could afford those frills.

As adventurous kids, my little gang of neighborhood hoodlums would spend Sunday afternoons patrolling the alleys looking for neat stuff or supplies to make our go carts or rubber band guns. Or maybe a shipping container big enough to build a fort.

On one such Sunday, and getting hungry, we found ourselves at the rear of the Silvercup bread factory, attracted by the smell of freshly baked bread. Scattered around the dumpster were several loaves of bread. Poking our heads into the dumpster, we struck gold. There were loaves and loaves of Silvercup bread still in unopened packaged loaves. After loading up and taking our booty home, we learned that it was day old bread that the bakery couldn’t or wouldn’t sell since their image was “freshly baked”. Their loss, our gain.

We were all poor back then, so “free” bread was a gift. Hitting the dumpster behind the bakery became a weekly event. We started providing bread for the entire neighborhood, or at least for every home on Minnesota Street.

Silvercup even had their “Silvercup rocket” that would tour the city and be exhibited at the state fair.

Then one weekend, we discovered the Farmcrest Bakery on the corner of Medbury and Russell. Farmcrest produced those little pies that you used to see in the grocery stores. They usually sold for around twenty five cents back then. Needless to say, we had a successful raid on the dumpster behind the Farmcrest factory also. There were cherry pies, peach pies, apple pies, and even some Twinkie knockoffs. We only took stuff that was still packaged and unspoiled.

So, even in poverty, we didn’t sit around complaining about being poor. In fact, I didn’t realize that we were poor until I became an adult. A few years later, some enterprising soul opened up a “day old bakery goods store” and sold the same stuff that we had gotten free.

Fredric Durrette served one tour in Vietnam, retired as E8 in the navy submarine service after 23 years. Major hobbies are collecting old stuff from the 20s and restoring old racing bicycles. Worked as a commercial photographer at JL Hudsons in Detroit and continue photography as a hobby. Love Sade, sixties soul, seventies rock, and all jazz. Attended Woodstock in 69!

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