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My first job... Howie

By David V. Le Vine

It sounds a little corny, but Howie’s, I think, was my first job.

Howie’s was one of the first convenience stores in Willmar, absent the gas pumps. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Howie’s was the place to slip into for a loaf of bread, maybe some doughnuts, and/or some canned goods and magazines.

One side of Howie’s was a lunch counter with the old-fashioned stools. You could get any kind of egg salad or tuna salad sandwiches, or load up on a variety of ice creams. My favorite was butterscotch revel, designed to give young guys a face full of hearty pimples. Then, there were the fountains for making your sodas sizzle. A kid would come in, ask for a chocolate soda, I’d put a couple scoops into a tall glass, pull the fizzle knob, give it to the kid and he would scoff it in a blink, say thanks, buy a baseball magazine and scoot.

One day, I was walking along Litchfield Avenue when a voice said, “Hey, kid! Want a job?” He was Howard Strom, owner of Howie’s. Howie was that kind of guy. I liked him a lot. He taught me how to make sundaes, sodas, stock the bread varieties and replenish magazines and paperback books.

Saturdays were always busy, morning ‘til night, Folks from places like Sunburg, Kerkhoven, Spicer, Kandiyohi and Atwater, would drive to the hub city, Willmar, for shopping, lunches, a movie, and maybe a shoeshine and haircut. A lot of the men went bowling or hit the pool rooms.

As I look back, it is interesting to note that tips were almost non-existent in those days If someone left a quarter, my face would flush.

I was outfitted in a white cap and apron. At first I didn’t like it, but got used to it. One early summer morning, Howie called my house and asked me to come in. When I got to the store, I found him in the basement. On his left side was a stack of tuna, chicken salad and, even, peanut butter sandwiches. A couple refrigerators were slowly chilling products.

Howard said, “OK, here’s what I want you to do. The Freedom Train will park in the railroad yards for the weekend and I want you to sell sandwiches up and down the line of people who have come to see the displays.”

I had really not had much experience in making change, but the two-day lesson got me up and going. I would fill a basket of .35 cent sandwiches and sell them along the lines waiting to board. All day long I was in and out of Howie’s. I don’t know how many I sold, but I made a lot of forth and back trips. And, the best money I had ever made. In fact, Howie said he had never had a day like it.

That night, the two of us sat in the basement eating what else but tuna and egg salad sandwiches, with a soda pop wash.

Howie was so proud of how I ran my butt off that he gave me a $20 bill. (Remember, this was around 1950.)

The building housing Howie’s still stands and I daydream about that weekend. I think it would be safe to say... I must have sold a thousand of those sandwiches.

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