Keeping on the Ball

Today’s blog is about keeping on the ball, gumball that is. You see, one of the store fixtures here at Hill Hardware is our old-fashioned 1-cent gumball machine. I actually acquired it quite a few years ago, before we bought the store. I just like old fashioned mechanical things like that. I have fond memories of going to the A&P grocery store in Chagrin when I was little. They had a bank of penny gumball machines by the door ( there were nickel and dime machines too, but my Mom was thrifty). If I was good while we were shopping, Mom would give me a penny or two to spend in the machines. The machines back then had small prizes mixed in with the gumballs. I had to carefully scrutinize the machines to see which one looked the most promising as far as maybe getting a prize goes. This would occupy me as the checkout lady was ringing up our order, and my Mom would have to tell me “Time’s up!” to get me to decide. Usually I just ended up with gum, but I was fascinated with the machines all the same.

I got my machine at a flea market and since I never used it at home (I don’t chew a lot of gum anymore) I filled it and brought it in to the store. I must have skipped gumball 101, and I had to figure out how it works. To get one open, you first put the key into the lock at the top of the machine. This releases the lock itself to unscrew off a threaded stud that runs through the center of the machine to hold all the components together.

Taking the top off allows you to add gumballs (or prizes!) when it gets low. There is also a handle that allows you to lift off the upper glass assembly altogether. This allows the lock mechanism to be removed and finally opens up the bottom so you can get all of the pennies out.

I took it apart this week because we were almost out of gumballs. The problem was getting more. I don’t remember what I paid last time, but I remember the purchase price allowed for a small profit at one cent apiece. This time prices were up (what else is new?) and I couldn’t find gumballs for less than 2 cents apiece. I debated about retiring the machine since we could no longer make a profit, but I just couldn’t do it. I bought them anyway and I figured that we would just have to subsidize the cost a little as a sort of loss-leader like the big stores do with some of their sale items. The kids have so much fun with it, and most are amazed that you can actually buy something for a penny. So when the gumballs came in, I loaded up the machine and put it back out by the candy counter, here at the Old Hardware Store…