Mark Simonson

Mark Simonson

As we enter the supermarket or line up at the gas pump these days, certainly going through our minds must be how much more we will likely be paying the next time in order to eat or drive. Our thoughts aren't new, as local residents had this on their minds as the days grew closer to July 1, 1946.

At midnight Monday, July 1, price controls were ended on just about everything. The limits had been established around the time World War II broke out, as the Office of Price Administration began operations. The agency had the power to place ceilings on all prices except agricultural commodities, and to ration scarce supplies of other items, such as tires, automobiles, shoes, nylon, sugar, gasoline, fuel oil, coffee, meats and processed food.

Having had the security of no price increases for almost five years, local reaction to the initial demise of OPA ran the gamut from joy to downright depression. As it was at the time, there were few items to actually purchase at an advertised price. The Oneonta Star sent a reporter to the downtown business area to get some local reactions.

Some were happy with the end of OPA because it meant the end of the black market. They knew prices would go up, but once items were available again on the mainstream market, competition would hopefully level off prices.

"Why not butter at a dollar a pound? That's better than butter at 42 cents _ which you never see," one man answered.

Emil Jensen, a produce farmer of Spruce Street agreed.

"They should have killed it long ago," he said. "Perhaps now they'll put stuff back on the market and we'll get a chance to buy something. Prohibition created bootleggers; the OPA created the black market. OPA has hurt the farmer who couldn't raise most produce with the prices fixed."

On the other hand, Charles Cox, a D&H Railroad employee of Gilbert Street, said, "I'm afraid that the price of things such as food and clothing will go sky-high. For this reason I wish OPA wouldn't go out. The way I see it, the stores are going to be overstocked. Pretty soon they won't be able to sell anything, and we'll be back in the depression again. In two years."

Over the next few days, the Star reported that the end of price controls had very little effect on business in Oneonta area stores. Advertisements in the newspaper pledged that their prices weren't going to go up.

Within a week, however, local prices were reported to have gone up by 10 to 15 percent on food costs and "grocers freely predicted the spiral would go higher next week and thereafter."

It was reported July 18 that our area wasn't too concerned. A huge quantity of meat, the likes of which hadn't been seen in grocery stores for several years, became available and caused a stampede of meat-hungry shoppers.

"The price did not matter. Joyously, the patrons laid the cash on the line at the rate of 57 cents per pound for center cut chops against the last OPA ceiling of 39 cents," the Star said.

One store manager commented, "They've been hungry for meat for a long time." Grocery and produce clerks stood by and watched their butcher colleague sweat.

By the end of July, prices were boosted on shoes, coal and building materials. It was enough to have OPA laws reinstated. Local stores received price charts from the regional office in New York City on August 1, 1946.

The OPA was abolished once and for all May 29, 1947. Once the Korean War began, similar functions were performed by the Office of Price Stabilization.

This weekend, World War II love letters home were worthy of scrapbooking.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.

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