A business was and is hard work

An early image from the Waukegan News-Sun

As a child, when I walked into my aunt’s business in Waukegan, I had no idea of the hard work and labor of love that was behind the circus wagons, the colorful front windows, the care and feeding of the animals, the drudgery of keeping the books and doing the accounting, accounts payable, payroll (by hand), and the work that was required to determine pricing and create newspaper advertising. There were no computers and there was no internet. Everything was by brain and hand power. You had to know math, how to calculate percentages, and a host of details about the care of the different kinds of animals. Your work was never done. Today the topic is “advertising.” But it really is bigger than that.

How Did Waukegan Know?

Newspaper Advertising Layout and Finished Ad

This struck home when I found a treasure in the papers my Aunt Vera gave me for this historical memory. I found the proof on a layout sheet from the Waukegan News-Sun. I believe this advertisement was run in November 1959 when I was eight years old. The clues point to this as I compared the hand-written “copy-and-paste” layout with one of the newspaper relics my aunt had saved. If you look at the proof, you can see the copy, pictures and prices for the pets are the same.

Notice all the details including copy and prices.
Notice the address: 1914 Grand Avenue

The featured picture was probably taken before 1959. This is my uncle Berger Winquist and he looks like he was a teenager in this picture. He was born in September 1939, so I am guessing this picture was taken in the early days The Pet Shop was open. The Pet Shop opened in 1952. Berger worked in The Pet Shop, as did other family members.

The Pet Shop in Waukegan Illinois – Berger Winquist was Aunt Vera’s brother

Vera opened the Pet Shop when she was 22 years old

When I interviewed Aunt Vera recently, she told us that The Pet Shop opened in December of 1952. Aunt Vera is 90 years old (born in 1930) and her memory is astoundingly clear, and she can tell stories about the things that happened many years ago. She opened her business when she was 22 years old. That is remarkable. Think about what you were doing at 22. Let me tell you about how the Lord prepared her for her life’s work…

High School and Stenotype Training

She attended Flower Technical High School. I believe this is the school information: FLOWER TECHNICAL. She took “technical classes” and graduated when she was 17. She then attended one year at LaSalle Extension University to learn stenotype. A stenotype machine, shorthand machine or steno writer was a specialized chorded keyboard or typewriter used by stenographers for shorthand use. She graduated in 1949 when she was 20. (La Salle Extension University was a nationally accredited private university based in Chicago, Illinois. Their primary mode of delivery was by way of distance learning.)

Industrious and Learning New Skills

Most of her work was at “minimum wage”

During these formative years she wasn’t just sitting at home. Her first job was as a dishwasher and kitchen worker in the Franklin Blvd Hospital in Chicago Illinois. She earned $0.22 per hour. If she had been working full-time, her annual income would have been about $450. She held subsequent jobs before starting The Pet Shop as well.  

Her next two jobs were in two different Chicago laundries. When she left Supreme Laundry, she was earning $0.55 per hour. She then gained experience serving customers as a waitress/dishwasher at the Parklane Restaurant in Chicago. She earned $0.40 plus tips. My aunt then progressed to work at Peerless Enameling Company where she worked in the packing and inspection areas. Her hourly wage started at $0.50 and she was making $0.85 at the end of that job.

Her final job on the application for employment that I discovered, was for Motorola Inc. She worked as a “budget statistics clerk” and she progressed from $30/week ($0.75/hour) to $47.50/week ($1.19/hour.) All of this had to be before she opened her store when she was 22 years old.

A Lesson About Dreams and Success

If you are a young person, just starting out in life, learn from my aunt’s example. The early “menial” jobs were a training ground. She learned about business, serving customers, listening to her boss, keeping track of the budget, and following instructions. Even the classes she took in school were building blocks for future success. She learned how to work hard and how to get to the next level. Successful people don’t succeed as the result of some instantaneous single moment that vaulted them to the top. They had many failures and there were times when success just didn’t seem possible or even within sight. There is one other lesson that I have not shared. My aunt’s girlhood dream wasn’t “I want to open a pet shop.” She wanted to be a medical doctor. But her life path did not permit that dream, so she took another route to help unite animals with people.

The pets brought joy to many in Waukegan.

Final Word: The Work of the Historian

Just one of many advertisements I found in Aunt Vera’s files.

Having just started writing The Pet Shop memories and history, I have a much higher regard for those who dig through old documents seeking clues about the past and about the people of the past. It is like a treasure hunt. Some of it doesn’t mean anything to me, but there are diamonds in the dust. I hope you are seeing the diamonds. I know I am doing something that pleases Auntie Vera. That makes the time spent well worth it.