And now, from the No-Good-Deed-Goes-Unpunished Department, we bring you this unusual, somewhat amusing tale from downtown High Point in the summer of 1947.
In the midst of the country’s booming postwar economy — and in an age before anybody had ever heard of a mall — the city’s downtown district was a shopping mecca. Department stores such as the popular Belk-Stevens Co., better known simply as Belk, thrived with an abundance of shoppers.
There was just one little problem — parking.
You see, Belk’s customers were apparently having such a good time shopping for linens and lingerie and such that they forgot all about those pesky parking meters lining N. Main Street … until they eventually came back outside and found a citation on their windshield.
Naturally, this upset store manager Albert Sawyer, who didn’t want his loyal customers to have a bad taste in their mouth — regardless of the reason — every time they drove away from Belk.
So Sawyer came up with an idea that was, frankly, pretty clever: He hired a couple of teenage boys to constitute his anti-parking meter patrol. One of them was Bill Gray, a 17-year-old junior at High Point High School.
“Belk’s tried to be customer-friendly,” says Tom Gray, Bill’s son, who often heard his father tell the story of his experience as a meter defeater. “They gave him a bucket of pennies and told him to go out there and walk up and down the street, and put a penny in the meter to extend the parking time of anybody whose meter had expired.”
Those whose time was about to expire also got an extension.
Every time Gray and his partner put a penny in a meter, they also slipped a business card under the windshield wiper that read, “Your Time Expired on the Parking Meter, But Our Little Helper Extended Your Time.” The cards, of course, included a promotional plug for Belk-Stevens.
The plan was going smoothly, until the High Point Police Department caught wind of it and called it off.
“Motorists thought it was fine,” The High Point Enterprise reported on June 6, 1947, with a photograph of Gray feeding an expired meter. “But not the cops. One of them told the store that if the ‘little helpers’ were not called in, he would arrest them. They were violating the city ordinance which forbids placing advertisements in parked cars, he said.”
Yeah, maybe, but what probably upset the police more was the loss of revenue caused by all of those potential parking tickets not being issued.
“I remember Dad talking about it and laughing about it,” recalls Tom Gray, who grew up in High Point but now lives in Memphis. “He said they caught him out there on N. Main Street and told him to cease and desist. I don’t think they gave him a citation, though. I don’t think it ever amounted to anything, other than a humorous story that showed up in the newspaper.”
True, it did make for an amusing story in the paper — worth every penny, we’d say.
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