Portrait of afro american male hipster resting after shopping on weekend sitting on stairs with paper bags, smiling dark skinned guy looking at camera enjoying recreation after buying purchases

—Photo: Bull Run/Adobe

As a child, I was told things that have remained with me into my adult years. A plethora of these thoughts are probably ones passed on to you while growing up too. Were you told to eat everything on your plate? Were you reminded to make up your bed each morning? I am sure you were told to never leave home without money in your pocket or pocketbook. Certainly, the reminder to watch the company you keep is familiar.

Like many of you, I do not shop the way I once did. The pandemic and aging have altered my practice of buying things as I once did. Furthermore, on-line shopping has become the thing to do when I must shop. But on those occasions when I find it necessary to go to the store, I invariably encounter something that brings my parent’s words to mind with regard to shopping practices; an annoying question I am asked when I finish shopping. This question usually takes place at the checkout counter when, after paying for my goods, the cashier asks, “Do you want a bag?” Whenever this is asked, my parent’s words flash before me. My mother and my father constantly told me to always get a bag at checkout, back in the day.

Just last week, I was again reminded of my parent’s words. There I was at one of the major drug chains in the area where I gathered all of my items and headed to the checkout counter. I approached the cashier and surmised from her body language that I would get that dreaded question. So, I decided to beat the cashier to the punch and said, “Yes, I want a bag; please do not ask.” She responded, “Not everyone wants a bag.” This caused me to go into a diatribe about the significance of a bag. I told the cashier, my parents told me to always get a bag because this was one way that you could avoid being accused of stealing. I also told the cashier that a bag was so important until I could recall situations in the past when a child arrived home from a store without a bag and their parents had them return to the store to get one. As I slowly left the cashier station, it was interesting to note that others in line insisted on a bag for their purchases. In fact, the cashier had bags in her hand to give customers as soon as they made payment. Just how important was a bag? For me, extremely important. You should know that I cringe today whenever I am in a store and a young child makes a purchase and then leaves without a bag. Leaving a store without a bag just did not occur, back in the day.

Before the 1800s, my asking for a bag would be insignificant. I would not get a bag as there were no bags to be given to customers. The reason is understandable and is something that you might not have considered. It is, however, relevant to the focus of this column as there is a history to the shopping bag. While the shopping bag can seem like an old, unchanged shopping item, shopping bags have undergone a world of changes over the years. Shopping bags did not exist before the 1800s. You may find it interesting to know that before shopping bags, shoppers carried their goods home in baskets or merchants delivered them to their homes. In 1852, Francis Wolle, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher, invented a machine to produce paper shopping bags. This basic envelope-style bag did not have the capacity to carry much. Then in 1871, inventor Margaret Knight designed a machine that could produce more spacious flat-bottom bags and in 1883 Charles Stillwell crated the pleated, collapsible brown paper bag which we are familiar with today. As stores grew and offered a wider range of goods, other variations of the paper bag were created. A Minnesota grocer, Walter G, Deubner, produced the tote type paper bag in 1950 which was reinforced and had handles. The 1960s saw paper bags that were well designed and seen as works of art. A Swedish company patented the standard “T-shirt” plastic bag; and the 1980s saw poly bags offered along with paper bags.

Today, you can readily see the transition from paper to plastic bags. However, we are beginning to see the era of plastic bags coming to an end. Some of the large discount retailers no longer offer bags and some supermarkets are no longer giving bags to customers as they are charging for bags. However, there are people who have an affinity for the days of the paper bag and collect them as a hobby.

Recently, in our beloved city of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, the delay, in banning plastic bags, has been lifted and banning plastic bags has now gone into effect. Philadelphia has joined many other cities in banning plastic bags. So, as previously mentioned, plastic bags are being banned, some stores are charging for paper bags and other stores are not giving out paper bags at all. This is the world of shopping in which we currently live. Perhaps you are asking, “What does one do?” Look around when you are out at a store, and you will see customers bringing their own cloth bags. If you do not want to do this, you can turn back the hands of time and forego the words of our parents. Just gather up your purchases in your arms at checkout and not ask for bags as we once did, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146 The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Philadelphia Tribune.

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