Before the days of supermarkets, housewives used to have to go to a number of different shops in order to get food for one or two days' meals. There were no refrigerators, so the women had to shop frequently or their food would spoil. Typically they carried wicker shopping baskets because the shops did not provide bags. The women would naturally form familiar relationships with the shopkeepers. Many of the shops were mom-and-pop enterprises, so the shoppers would get to know both husband and wife. In butcher shops, for example, the husband would do all the meat cutting and his wife would deal with the customers. Della did not to alienate any of these business people, who were struggling to survive themselves, but she must have caused some irritation by scrutinizing the scales, counting and recounting the change she received, and sometimes haggling over the price of an item. She would have gone to the butcher, the baker, the greengrocer, and perhaps to the fruit seller, delicatessen, and the seller of dairy products on a typical day. Going shopping was a big event in her day. She spent much of her time alone in her apartment. Her relations with the shopkeepers would have been important to her, since they were among the few people she knew.
The statement in the story that best describes her relationship with the shopkeepers is:
Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied.
This shows how hard it was to save a penny in those days. Food were so low that the shopkeeper himself was counting his profits in pennies. No doubt these men and women were less cordial to Della than they might be with some of their other customers. They did not understand that she was trying to save a tiny sum of money to buy her husband a Christmas present at the end of the year. No doubt they categorized her as one of the women who was unpleasant to deal with. They may have considered "parsimony," or stinginess, as a character trait, which was obviously not the case with Della. She was so generous that she sold her beautiful hair in order to buy her husband a totally unnecessary and extravagant Christmas present.