Voting has been tallied for the annual “Best Of” awards, and winners are rightly proud to know their customers and clients have taken the time to cast their ballots in their favor.
These awards are a relatively new phenomenon, made easier in these days of online voting, where a simple “click” determines the best of … well, just about every category that can be named.
One hundred years ago, it wasn’t so easy. Businesses and products competed for customers through advertising and word of mouth. While we have few documented records of what people were actually saying to their families and neighbors, we can browse through the archives of vintage newspapers to find out who and what were the “best of” Owensboro in 1923.
Local businesses touted amenities that may seem strange to us today, given that we take so much for granted. For example, Frank B. Lucas – a grocer located at 515 W. Ninth St. – promised their “nice, fresh meats” were “kept in a sanitary manner,” as well as “handled by an experienced meat cutter.”
Likewise, Piggly Wiggly, at 116 W. Main, assured shoppers of limited financial means that they were welcome in that store. “We do not size you up by the size of your purchase. Though your purchase is small, you are as welcome as any,” an advertisement dated May 12, 1923, began, going on to assure potential customers that theirs was a store “where the moderate purchaser can buy her small needs without embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, Karn & Carpenter Druggists promised “you can be absolutely certain that the compounding will be done EXACTLY per the directions of the physician – that the purest of fresh drugs ONLY will be used.”
And there’s nothing like a little peer pressure to bring the customers in. J.O. Sourbeer & Co. (204-206 E. Main St.) advertised all-metal refrigerators that would “pay for themselves in a year’s time in the saving of ice” with prices starting at $20. “Your Neighbor Trades With Us, Why Not You,” they wanted to know.
It wasn’t only local goods and services that were marketed. National brands also promoted the excellence of their products through newspaper advertisements.
Wrigley’s Gum warned readers that “most of us eat too hastily and do not chew our food enough,” but they had the solution: “If people realized how much more good their food would do them if properly masticated and followed up with a bit of Wrigley’s to assist the digestive process, we’d have far better health.”
Maxwell House Coffee reminded Owensboro residents that their brew is “good to the last drop,” while another ad urged potential buyers to “accept ‘Bayer Tablets of Aspirin’ only.” That ad bragged that physicians had been prescribing their product for more than 22 years for ailments ranging from colds and toothaches to lumbago and rheumatism. (The ad did not mention that Bayer was also the first company to sell heroin as a cough suppressant.)
Other local service providers jockeying for the attention and patronage of their customers were the Owensboro Home Telephone & Telegraph Co., which encouraged readers to try “Home Long Distance … On Your Next Call To Louisville.”
Ratican Coal & Lumber Co., located at Ninth and Lewis streets, offered what they said was “the best grades of Railroad and Ratican Coal at attractive prices.” Likewise, Union Station Drug Store boasted, “We have the best fountain in town” as they lured buyers in for their “drugs, sick room and school supplies.”
Elite Cigar Co. urged smokers to “get a good cigar from the Charles Thomson tin. Thousands of men in these parts are doing it.”
Short Bros. Motor Co. Inc. touted a Chevrolet Utility Coupe for only $680 – but the “superior model” automobile could also be purchased “on easy terms of $190 cash payment and the balance in fifteen monthly installments.”
Once one owned such a prize, he would, of course, want to keep it clean. Standing by ready to help out was the Auto Laundry at Owensboro Undertaking and Livery association (316 W. Third St.)! “Have Your Car Washed,” their ad trumpeted. “With all that dust and mud off, it will look a hundred per cent better,” they said, adding that theirs was “the best car washer in town, giving prompt service and low prices.”
Who could ask for more?
These businesses – and many others – were among the “Best Of” Owensboro 100 years ago. Congratulations to this year’s winners, and we hope your services will still be celebrated in 2123! OL