My Osco career of 29 years commenced in 1949 as receiving clerk at the Mason City, Iowa store. At that time Osco only had 13 stores. Starting salary was $40 dollars a week for 48 hours. However if you didn't work 60 hours a week it was an indication you didn't have the desire to grow with the company. Oh yeah, overtime pay? ...are you kidding me?!
Jo, my wife and I were married in 1950 and she had just been crowned Miss Governor Day of Iowa. Her picture was posted in the Mason City airport when she made the inaugural flight from Mason City to Chicago. Paul Stratton (the Osco President at the time) flew in to town and Stan King (district manager) pointed the picture out and Mr. Stratton said "Let's fire him and hire her." That was very hurtful!
After working my way out of the basement of the store, I was assigned to the lobby. At that time Osco had convenience items located in the very front of the store… i.e. candy, gum, cigarettes, film, cameras etc. with a bank of check-out stands behind the lobby area. That is where drugs, cosmetics and general merchandise were stocked. Oh, you want to know how retail prices compare today with 1949? Okay, cigarettes (Lucky Strike, Camels) by the carton were a $1.69 carton and generic cigarettes were $1.49 a carton. Gum, life savers, and candy bars were 3 for 10 cents. Bayer aspirin 100's cost 43 cents and sold for 59 cents. After about one year we were transferred to Cedar Rapids, Iowa as lobby manager. Salary was $60.00 dollars a week. What one strived for was to become store manager for pay was $30 a week plus 18% of the store profits. Managers’ compensation was so good that they were not permitted to drive a Cadillac car as that would appear too prestigious. However, Osco managers could typically have a home in the nicest part of the city.
Now, let’s move thru number of transfers. We spent only one or two years in any one location, starting with Mason City to Cedar Rapids to Fort Dodge Iowa, to Rochester, Minnesota to Ottumwa, Iowa as assistant manager. I won't tell you how many hours I put in there, but I went from weighing 205 to 176 pounds. Now we are off to Fargo, North Dakota. Where the hell is Fargo, ND? Store manager Ken Reardon served both as store manager and DM for that region, so this provided me with the opportunity to function as an assistant manager and to fill in for him as manager. At Fargo I had the good fortune to meet and work with an outstanding pharmacy student named Tork Fugelstad. Soon after graduating from school Tork was transfer to Waukegan, Illinois as an assistant manager.
I will highlight a few past and future experiences. First Osco was a closed corporation which enabled employees to purchase stock in the company. Mr. Stratton's ground A stock offering was made and Jo and I had saved $200, so we go to the bank and they agree to loan us $300. We put in for $500 of Osco stock. Next we got a letter from Mr. Stratton, they were only going tomake stock available in multiples of $1,000…so that took care of that investment! From Fort Dodge to Rochester, Minnesota to Ottumwa, Iowa and another Osco stock offering comes out. We get $1,500 worth of Osco stock. Now back to Fargo. Another stock offering, however we purchased a home and we're stone broke. I advised store manager Ken Reardon we had to pass due to the lack of funds. Now get this one. Mr. Stratton's policy "can't borrow money to buy Osco Stock". Ken Reardon comes to me and say's "Mr. Stratton told me to loan you $5,000.00 dollars to buy Osco Stock @ 4% interest. I told Ken I couldn't do that for I don't know when I could ever pay him back. He said "the old man said to loan you the money, so here is the check". I did pay him back.
Moving forward, we are transferred to Waukegan, Illinois and our good friend Tork Fugelstad is assistant manager. The store was doing very poorly, primarily due to lack of support for Tork, and also the store manager was let go. Management and a number of employee's ran at night, except for Tork so he had little chance of moving the store forward. That program changed! The first week we let four people go. I recall one of the first days at Waukegan I noticed the employees were all in the rest area drinking coffee at 8:30 A M when they should be on the floor working at 8:00 o'clock. That didn't happen again! Tork as many of you know is an outstanding merchant. After we got all the old crap out of the store we started to move forward. At our first Christmas we were doing so well Tork operate a night shift from 6 PM until about 7 or 8 AM. The store was 5,000 sq feet and we did $100,000 in sales the last week before Christmas! We also ran, and I believe the only one in Osco history, an 8 page section in the newspaper, not an eight page tabloid a full eight pages. This was primarily co-op and much of it was at national line rate. So in fact we made money on the advertising.
Shortly thereafter, in 1960, Tork was transferred out as a store manager and I was moved to the Jewel payroll to help the development of the Midwest Turn-Style Stores, the first of which was in Racine, Wisconsin. After that I had the assignment as President of Turn*Style, Osco on to buying four Osco Store's from Osco to adding a couple of more stores under the name of Lewis Osco Drug. Three outstanding people I had the privilege to work for include Mr. Paul Stratton, Osco President and Mr. George Clements, and Mr. Don Perkins, both former Jewel Company presidents and chairmen.