My husband grew up selling concord grapes at a roadside stand. His family had several rows of grapes that were still producing when we started dating thirty – three years ago. From what I understand, the grapes would be picked and placed on a table or stand in the front yard, near the joining of the road and the end of their driveway. It was a fairly busy road and his family knew a fair number of people as his Dad was an Assistant Principal at a high school in the next town over. Buyers would purchase the grapes by placing money in an honesty box. It worked. People paid for what they took – deep purple, delicious, homegrown grapes!
Since being in the mid-west we have experienced several similar scenarios. During our first summer here, in 1999, we found an antique shop in downtown La Crosse. We loved looking for antiques before we had kids and continued during that first mid-western summer when we only had one, well-behaved pre-schooler in tow. It was an activity that connected us to where we had come from in Western New York.
Next to the antique shop was a furniture store. It was musty with a thin veil of dust covering many of the pieces, but a lamp in the window drew us in. The furniture was haphazardly scattered without any real style or grouping, covering three floors in a building where the floors creaked and the lights were kept off until someone took the time to walk up the uneven stairs. Today, it would be described by my boys as “sketchy”. The owners were eccentric at best. It was an entertaining place to find. Anyway, as I said, a stained glass lamp had caught our eye. We returned to the lamp and both said we liked it, stating it would go in our new home in Wisconsin. We left, window shopping complete.
My husband went back, within a week or a day, I cannot seem to recall this detail now, with the intent of purchasing the lamp. The lamp was not marked with a price. When he asked, the owner replied, “You can’t afford that lamp.”
My husband smiled and said something along the lines of, “Well, I think I can but neither of us know for sure unless you tell me how much it is.” He was purchasing the lamp for me as an anniversary present. Agreeing on the price, a credit card was produced.
“Oh, no,” boomed the owner’s large voice, “we don’t take those! Cash only.” A little shocked , my husband said, “Okay, I didn’t know. I ‘ll go to an ATM and get the cash. Can you hold this for me?”
Then, much to my husband’s surprise, the owner said, “Just take it home with you, you can bring me the money tomorrow!”
“What?” Seriously! This is what happened! That afternoon, my husband gifted me the lamp that he had taken out of the furniture store without paying for it and without being asked to leave any form of identification or contact information!
We were stunned! Of course, the next day, the lamp was paid for in cash, and everyone was happy!
Tangible honesty boxes, such as those for the grapes existed. Intangible honesty boxes also existed in the form of trust for other people to do the right thing and pay for what they receive – whether it be thirteen ears of corn, grapes, or a lamp!
Does this still exist today? My answer is yes! I refer you to this article: Honesty Box at a Bakery by Iqra Khadim.
What examples of honesty boxes do you have to share?