Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Home Delivery Then And Now

A reader's email reached the Beacon-Villager with a suggestion to write about the old days of home delivery: "Back in the 30's and 40's when few people had cars it was necessary for a litany of service people to come regularly to your home. From my recall..."

A few observations here that differentiate home delivery of decades ago with now. First, men worked and women were at home. People might have had cars, but more and more had phones. Delivery could be on a schedule (milk, eggs, mail) or ordered (ice, coal, heating oil, groceries). Ice delivery by J.L. Comeau continued into the 1960s. Hans Eriksen started milk processing and delivery in 1902. The family stayed in the milk business until 1965 before deciding to focus only on its ice cream business. This April, Erikson's Ice Cream will open for its 80th year. 

In addition to delivery, there were goods and services that are now only faint history. The knife and scissors sharpener came around. Kids delivering newspapers. Doctors making house calls. Farmers selling vegetables from a horse-drawn wagon or an open-backed truck, calling out "I got STRAW-berries, I got PEACHES." (Now we go to a farmers' market.) The ragman would come around to buy old clothes. The life insurance man knocked on doors to sell policies, but also came around monthly to collect money owed on the policy. Many houses had a cast-iron lidded, concrete-lined pit by the back door, for kitchen organic waste. Inside was a large metal bucket. Every so often a collector for a local pig farm would come by to take away the pigswill. The lid of ours reads "F.B. JONES. SOMERVILLE MASS.

Cast iron lid for kitchen organic waste - to be collected by pig farmer
If you had horses or cows you would know to arrange for the knacker to haul away any animal that sickened and died. The carcasses went to Taylor's mink farm, on Concord Street.  

Now that we are well into the 21st century, delivery has taken on entirely new methods. The issue is still what is referred to as the "last mile problem." Planes, ships, trains and trucks can move items in bulk, but businesses and people want delivery to their door. This last leg of the supply process can be up to 28 percent of the total cost of moving goods from manufacturing site to customer. General purpose delivery is handled by the Post Office, FedEx, UPS, DHL. In cities, bicycle couriers do the small stuff. Amazon is growing its own delivery system (trucks, maybe drones?!?). Walmart will deliver prescription drugs ordered via their pharmacy. Car dealers will deliver a new car. Medical marijuana can be delivered, too (including in Massachusetts).

Security has become an important issue now that valuable items are being left by front doors. Especially around the December holidays, deliveries are being stolen by  'porch pirates.' Some delivery services are experimenting with electronically coded lockers at convenient locations. The customer orders. The item is delivered. The customer gets a text with the location and a one-time-use code to open the locker. This works well for people in apartments, or who want a delivery convenient to where they work.    

Home delivery of food is an explosively growing niche, with plenty of innovative ideas. Restaurants have their own delivery people, or you can go through a centralized service such as GrubHub. GH allows you to look at a menu on your smart phone, text your order, and pay, so no more phone call frustrations or fumbling for cash for the delivery person. Other types of food delivery can be groceries, food prepared for specific meals, or Meals-On-Wheels for the elderly and infirm. One company is experimenting with PiePal. The idea is you push a big round button installed on a wall, hold your phone up to it for your credit or debit number, and it orders pizza. Perfect for college dormitories. 

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