The Real RUSSIAN CONSPIRACY

by Eric Bombeck

Have you been to one of the 11,384 Lawson’s stores recently? My guess is no. I’m also guessing that you’re thinking, you mean those Lawson’s stores, gone since the mid-1980s, that had the great “Roll on, Big O” orange juice commercials:

A Lawson’s in Lakewood, Ohio, c. 1980. Source: Special Collections, Cleveland State University Library

“Now one man drives while the other man sleeps on that non-stop Lawson Run.

And the cold cold juice in the tank truck caboose stays as fresh as the Florida sun.

Roll on, ‘Big O.’ Get that juice up to Lawson’s in 40 hours.”

Yes, that Lawson’s and, yes, over 11,000 stores…but more on that later.

Lawson’s stores were a fixture here for many years. A dairy farmer named J.J. Lawson, who lived north of Akron, opened a store at his plant in 1939 to sell milk. The Lawson’s Milk Company grew to a chain of stores mostly in Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Lawson’s was bought out by Consolidated Foods in 1959. 

When I was a kid, it was 1.1 miles from our house near Buhl Park to the William P. Snyder Jr. High in Sharpsville. I know this because, besides a banana seat on my burnt-orange Schwinn bike, there was an odometer. Bikes, however, get flats and most of the time you end up walking to school. The old saying “I walked uphill both ways to school” was only half true in my case, it was downhill to school and uphill going home. 

In the days before backpacks were in, you actually had to carry your books home in your arms! To an eleven-year-old 6th-grader this was like an “Iron Man” competition — carry three or four big books straight up 7th Street hill, a hill so steep they have Soap Box Derby competitions on it these days. This wasn’t Russia, it was the U.S., for goodness sakes! I was pretty sure this was child abuse that the whole system was getting away with at our expense. My parents, the schools, President Nixon all were in on it. A massive conspiracy. But alas, the working class, underage, proletariat, had no rights in this obviously unjust system.

The only respite from these epic daily treks was the big blue sign with the milk container on it. As angelic music played, there in the distance like an oasis stood — Lawson’s. But if it wasn’t grass-cutting season how did a 6th-grader get money to buy wax lips, candy cigarettes, or Bub’s Daddy bubble gum? (The latter was only a nickel.) All of it was needed sugary energy to make the ascent up 7th Street. 

When faced with unjust circumstances, one must do whatever it takes to survive. There was only one answer…raid the house for change. This was a fairly simple process. First stop, the dryer — you might even find some bills there. Second stop, couch cushions, which almost always produced at least a dime. Third stop, any pair of trousers laying on the floor were fair game. The tops of dressers were a gray area. One could only take from there what one actually needed. It wasn’t okay to take whatever change was there, only a cut. It was more of a….reverse tax imposed by the under-trodden of society in general and was nothing actually against said dresser owner. If you had 75 cents you were sitting pretty good; more than a buck and you could even buy a comrade something.

Lawson’s was like family, it was always there. When you’re a kid you don’t know that things will end, you think that they will last forever. Of course, the best pranks are on family and maybe if I’d known they would one day disappear I might not have called our local Lawson’s one afternoon to prank them. At about age 15 I called and told the clerk that I was the district manager and to immediately go and count all the eggs in the cooler. When he came back I asked him where the eggs came from and when he didn’t have an answer, I said, “From a chicken!” and I hung up.

Alas, Lawson’s stores were all sold around 1985 to Dairy Mart which eventually sold out to Circle K. Those famous Lawson’s chip dip, chipped ham and Big O orange juice were all lost in the shuffle. 

What about those 11,384 Lawson’s stores mentioned earlier you ask? It seems around 1974 Lawson’s signed an agreement with a Japanese company to take Lawson’s to the island country. They have recently expanded into China and Indonesia.

There is hope for Lawson’s fans. Just recently the chain came back to the U.S. The now solely owned Japanese company put two stores in Hawaii with possible plans to come to the mainland. 

Eric Bombeck, Co-Editor, Small Town Memories.
(SHS 1979), South Pymatuning, PA.


SOURCES:

Bombeck, Eric. The Way It Was Newspaper, Facebook, July 2017. 

“Lawson (store).” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawson_(store)


To see a video and listen to Lawson’s Big-O Orange Juice commercial, go to: https://www.cleveland.com/remembers/2011/05/roll_on_big_o_the_lawsons_song.html