As I am traveling back and forth in my neighborhood during the course of each day, I am often reminded of my first job in the newspaper business. I was a teenager and I delivered The Syracuse Herald Journal on weekdays and The Herald American on Sundays. My paper route was a couple of short blocks from where I live now.
Every day I went to a barn in back of a house near my route, where the papers were dropped off. I packed them into my paper bag and started delivering them. On Sundays, the papers were much heavier. I needed my wagon to haul them around unless my grandfather showed up to help me – and that was often.
We would load the papers into Grandpa’s car, drive to my route and park the car. Each of us would put a stack of papers under an arm; I would do one side of the street and Grandpa would do the other side.
Back then, along with delivering the newspapers, paper boys also got a taste of the business side of the process. I spent every Saturday morning “collecting” from my customers. A week’s worth of papers cost 45 cents – 30 cents for six afternoon papers and 15 cents for the Sunday edition – 45 cents.
Many of my customers gave me 50 cents and told me to keep the change. Others gave me 50 cents and put their hand out, waiting for the nickel while I sifted through my pockets.
There were some extracurricular benefits to having a paper route. Since I was often the only young person who came knocking on my customer’s door, I was the logical one to ask to perform various errands.
I was often asked to shovel a path to the back door or from the driveway to the house. Since I was not (as my grandmother would put it) a very “stout” boy, I suppose my customers didn’t think I would be up to shoveling an entire sidewalk or a long driveway. But what I did do for my customers was usually worth at least a quarter or two. I had a customer who lived on my route but owned a business on South Avenue at the bottom of the hill. Since my customer was always at her store on Saturdays she asked me to collect there instead of at her house.
She always gave me an extra amount besides the expected nickel tip for “going out of your way.” I didn’t really go out of my way since I passed by her business on my way home. I didn’t know about “perks” then but I guess that was one.
Paperboys received a bill each week for newspapers delivered during the previous week. That bill had to be paid on Saturday with funds collected from customers. What was left was the carrier’s pay for the week.
The paper cost 45 cents a week and I had customers who asked if they could put me off until next week because they “were a little short.” I guess I knew what that meant because by Friday I didn’t always have a nickel for a candy bar. Steve, the corner grocer, didn’t give credit for candy bars.
Each newspaper pick-up station (remember the barn behind the house near my route) had a supervisor and paper boys were told to go to them for advice if there was a problem. My supervisor, who I still remember well as a kind man – his name was Mort Gallivan – told me I did okay but I should be sure to tell him if it happened again.
For paper boys, there were some quick revelations of how business worked.
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