Distributing Toy Ads Made for Lively Holiday Season

My cousin, Larry Reaves, and I recently reminisced about a small business opportunity we shared as young boys during the Christmas holidays of the early 1950s.

Larry’s father, Ray, worked for Mullins’ Hardware, owned by the late Tollie and Maxie Mullins. The successful business was located in the Taylor Brothers Building on W. Market Street, diagonally opposite the Southern Railway depot. Just after Thanksgiving each year, the store printed thousands of colorful brochures, advertising Christmas gifts that also included toys. Larry and I were hired to deliver these circulars, as we called them, door to door to potential customers all over town.

We canvassed area neighborhoods on most Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The experience, while often a bit demanding, afforded us the opportunity to engage in the merriment of the holidays. Ray served as our driver, route planner, supplier, chaperon, motivator and accountant. He kept a record of the number of advertisements we delivered, eventually rewarding us with two cents for each one dispersed. 

The weather ran the full gamut from wintry rainy or snowy days to cool sunny ones. We preferred gripping cold and light snow because it further enhanced the Christmas spirit. Before we departed to make our deliveries, our driver loaded the back of a covered pickup truck with an ample supply of circulars and several blankets. He then placed three bag lunches and some thermos bottles of hot chocolate in the front seat with him. Oddly enough, we opted to ride in the back of the truck until we became so numb that we gladly joined our driver up front in the comfort of the truck’s heater.

We worked together from opposite sides of the street. After dropping us off at a given stop, Ray drove to the next corner and waited for us. This afforded us the opportunity to enjoy a hot cocoa drink or replenish our circular carrying bags. Our chauffeur kept us within city limits and targeted neighborhoods with the highest concentration of inhabitants. Larry and I specifically recall working the tree streets of Locust, Maple, Pine and Southwest as well as the parallel avenues between Fairview and Eighth. We covered a good deal of territory in those four weeks.

The two of us loved what we were doing – spreading Christmas cheer all over Johnson City and receiving a heavy dose of it back from some nice congenial folks. We could not recall dogs being a problem for us; perhaps the canines were in the holiday mood and giving us a break. 

Larry and I occasionally played a game to see who could deliver circulars the fastest on any given block, literally running to and from houses, prompting surprised looks from residents. We did this once on E. Fairview.  I became exhausted running up and down steps on the uphill north side, while Larry effortlessly strolled on and off people’s porches on the downhill south end.

Our lucrative little business venture went bankrupt at the beginning of the third year when we boldly and confidently attempted to negotiate higher wages in our contract. We learned the reality of supply and demand firsthand. Our employer answered our ultimatum by replacing us with more affordable deliverers, sending our little door-to-door holiday venture into the archives of yesteryear.