There was a time when service was a common word. As the colonial period ended and the years passed, the industrial revolution steadily advanced and traders dreamed of more profits. People became the consumers and frequented the many shops on Main Street in Concord, buying necessities and a few extras when a spare was found in their pockets. People still grew their own vegetables and produced baked goods galore, but the merchants had a plan.
As the term is used over and over again, year after year, those looking for opportunities need to think outside the box. It is the successful entrepreneurs who practice and learn from their experience who are successful. In our somewhat post-pandemic world, we are seeing local businesses invoke new rules and policies while providing new safe shopping opportunities. If you need groceries, you simply order them on the computer and they will be placed in the trunk of your car. If you want a meal in a restaurant, there is a service that will also deliver you very efficiently while your food is still piping hot. Many years ago our own ancestors, those we descend from right here at Concord, accepted business models that offered opportunities to increase profits by providing better services.
A century ago, the early morning cobbled streets of Concord were pretty deserted, the only sound of a delivery wagon pulled by a single horse befriended by the one businessman sitting behind the reins. This businessman was engaged in the most modern and efficient business of the time, that of home delivery.
As people settled down and earned a salary that offered a little luxury or two, they spent their money. They bought ice from the ice man for their coolers, they bought milk and dairy products from the milk man. They bought charcoal from the coalman and tin pots from the street vendors who roamed the country from time to time. You can buy your firewood and Bibles in a wagon as well as many additional items. The era of convenience had arrived and our great-great-grandparents were involved in the cutting edge technology of the time.
As the lone wagons passed through the streets of Concord early each morning, they roamed their established routes from house to house: “Hello, sir. Hello Madam. How can I be of service today? It was convenience that opened the many doors around Concord to this modern wonder. It is the quality of service that has retained customers. The delivery men were very good at what they did, and they sold as much product as they could to earn a living wage and support their families. Employment and a stable income were both sought after and coveted. If you had a job, you took pride in your activities and certainly never complained to your employer, or your clients for that matter.
The Ice Man worked for the Concord Ice Company – selling ice in the hot summer was a challenge. Ice was cut each winter by hand at Long Pond and stored in a warehouse below the ground surface where it aided in preservation. Each ice cream cake would be covered with sawdust as an insulation to prevent melting. The ice would be loaded onto the delivery car. As the Ice Man roamed the streets of Concord, a small card was placed in the windows of houses with a number indicating how much ice the customer would like to purchase on any given day. Each side of a card referred to an amount. The card was simply placed this way. The ice cream man cut the desired amount of ice cream from the large cake and attached his ice tongs to lift and transport the ice cream into the customer’s house. Several times the Ice Man has placed the ice directly into the cooler, placing the melting tray below to keep customers’ food cool until the next visit.
The milkman worked the same with most houses having a milk box on their doorsteps. A receipt with the desired order quantities as well as payment would be left in the box where the milkman placed his cold glass milk bottles. The coalman drove a large truck and shoveled his coal into a chute in the basements of houses where there was a coal bin. The charcoal would be shoveled from the trash by the homeowners into the furnace to warm the house on cold winter days. If you did not have a charcoal furnace, you could still have wood delivered for your fireplace or wood stove. Some homes had small kerosene heaters, and a kerosene man even delivered kerosene. There was a man delivering chickens and another delivering pots and pans, modern wonders of a century ago, our ancestors embracing these modern conveniences.
It was the intelligent child who would follow the Ice Man on brutally hot summer days, begging for a shard of ice. A most delicious treat for a child living in the 19th century.
Sometimes the story comes back to warm us up once more, it comes back when we feel we’ve all gotten pretty smart. A delivery service you tell me, a wonderful idea. Yes, business is about profits and history is about nostalgia. Sometimes good things come back.