Area Grocers Once Sang the Sad Song, "Yes, We Have No Potatoes"
In 1922, the popular song, “Yes! We Have No Bananas,” written by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn, and recorded by Eddie Cantor, occupied the number one spot on the Hit Parade for five weeks. A banana shortage caused a severe blight. Thirty years later in 1952, the song could have been changed to "Yes! We have No Potatoes."
During that summer, potatoes came in short demand, which had been self induced from farmers cutting their production by 20 percent the previous year. The potatoes arrived in stores in small driblets and sold out almost before they could be displayed. One store painfully reported no potatoes on the shelves for a full week.
Another business received a few spuds but not enough to satisfy the public's demand. In other stores, the potato bins were bare. Surprisingly, one store had a windfall of potatoes the previous week when, amazingly, 115 bags arrived, but was gone within two days.
"What hurts in this shortage, as well as in any other shortages," said the fortunate seller" is that some folks tried to buy much more than they needed. One customer wanted 19 bags, with each one containing ten pounds of potatoes."
The store owner informed him that he could buy them if he wished, but pointed out that the received potatoes were newly dug and would likely rot before they could be consumed. The consumer wisely exited the store carrying just one bag of potatoes.
In order to give as many people as possible a chance at buying potatoes, one grocery allowed five pounds to each family when the potatoes came in. There were a few individuals who tried to get more, but, far and away, the vast number of folks understood the unfortunate situation.
Some businesses reported that they were expecting additional shipments soon, while others noted that they anticipated no supply anytime soon. One of the bright spots on the horizon was the fact that the new crop of spuds in adjacent areas would be ready for the market. Heretofore, the potatoes had been coming from Florida and late from the Carolinas, Arkansas and Alabama and those had been unusually small in size.
Another heartening indication of a quick end to the shortage was the fact that the price had not gone up, but actually, in the past weeks or so, had decreased a trifle to about a cent on the pound.
"The customers have been very nice about the situation," one salesperson said. "Naturally, there were a lot of calls for potatoes, and people kept asking if any were on hand, but most were tolerant."
Wholesalers declared that potatoes could still be obtained, although many of them were still on the black market. One supermarket hadn't had any for nearly three weeks, but a spokesman stated that there was hope in the ripening crops in North Carolina.
The situation in the potato chip industry fine with no reported shortages. Another plus was that there was no decrease in the output of chips or rise in prices. Dealers figured they could weather shortages without any changes in price or supply.
No problems were noted in the sweet potato market either. There had been a great deal more rice, grits, and in lesser amount, macaroni sold in the past several weeks than usual. Canned potatoes became very popular during the shortage and so were frozen French fries.
But even if area folks had to momentarily cut back on their intake of some specified items, most patrons did it in good spirit and no complaints, knowing that the situation would soon be corrected. Sellers made sure to emphasize the fact that this was a temporary problem and soon they would be eating potatoes again.
I checked several pages from early June 1952 newspapers and found no ads for potatoes. My family used to patronize Kroger Co. (C.M. Wise, manager, 118-22 W. King Street), being just a short distance from our Watauga Avenue apartment. I remember that being a nice store.
All this writing has made me hungry, so I think I will correct that situation by fixing me a loaded baked potato hunched up beside a tender sirloin steak.