Junior Doughty and I collaborated on The Frugal Outdoorsman, a web-zine that he published for several years prior to his death. Junior's daughter, Kim, keeps it alive and you can read our stuff under the link.
But, back to the paper towels. It's an old store-keepers trick to balance the books, and I told Joe that I remembered. It morphed into a story about another store-keeper I knew.
For several years, Junior was the owner of a small store in Tullos, LA. He sold gas, groceries and sundries. He didn't ring up the roll of paper towels to every customer, just the ones he thought was stealing from him.
It worked like this: A customer would come in the store, usually with a kid or two in tow. If the kid snitched a 50 cent candy bar, Junior rang up the paper towels. He also kept a brand-new mop at the end of the counter. If the customer was an asshole, or a known problem person, he got charged for the mop as well.
It was a fairly common practice. I knew another store owner, John Gibson, who ran the Rite Way Grocery in Natchez, LA. Natchez, LA is a small agriculture community just south of Natchitoches. The two closest stores were seven miles away, one north, one south.
John always had the lowest gasoline prices in the parish. I asked him about it, and he told me, "Dennis, I set my gas prices just high enough to pay for the product and the electricity to run the pumps. I don't care if I never make any profit on gasoline. But if you come in the store, you're mine.. While you're in the store, if you buy a coke, or a pack of cigarettes, or God forbid, a gallon of milk, I'll soak you for the convenience I make my living selling groceries. The gasoline just gets them in the parking lot."
John also kept a roll of paper towels on the end of the counter.
John, and his wife, Judy, were an interesting match. Their store building encompassed the Rite Way grocery and JJ's Lounge, the bar on the other end of the building. John ran the grocery, and Judy ran the bar. Judy was a big-titted blonde with a heart of gold, a ready smile, and poured an honest drink. It was a common redneck bar in an agricultural area, a place where everyone was welcome. It had Wednesday night poker games, Thursday night karaoke, and live music on Saturday. Between John selling groceries on one end of the building, and Judy selling whiskey on the other, John and Judy got very wealthy.
Another factoid about Junior. During the time he owned the store, he sold a lot of whiskey in a place where whiskey was forbidden. Boot-legging was rampant, and Junior chafed at the idea that he couldn't sell whiskey, especially when he saw large trucks carrying whiskey between the cities of Monroe and Alexandria. Junior noticed that one truck in particular made the run every Wednesday, so one day Junior flagged the driver and had a talk.
Every Wednesday, that truck would pull into Junior's lot and sell good booze right out of the back of the truck. The customers didn't have to drive 50 miles for good whiskey, and the driver split the profit with Junior. Junior told me that at one point in the operation, he was selling one percent of all the Crown Royal sold in the state of Louisiana.
Every store owner has his little technique, but the paper towel game is more common than you think.The next time you go into a little country store, make sure the grandkids keep their hands in their pockets, and pay attention to the roll of paper towels near the register.