Our city clerk came across something interesting during a search of our archives. They were minutes from a 1935 City Council meeting. As still is the case today, public presentations and concerns were raised.
This particular concern centered on a Mr. Guthrie, who based upon a few other searches revealed he was quite the regular guest and appears in the minutes on numerous occasions during that time period. Mr. Guthrie was a local baker, and on Sept. 15, 1935 he was bringing to council a complaint in regard to the pricing of his competitor’s bread.
The minutes read: “Regular order of business was suspended to hear a complaint from Mr. Guthrie, local baker, against Weber Bread Company for violation of ordinance #92, and also against Marshal Hoge (chief of police of sorts back then) for not supposing upon them sufficient license charge. His particular complaint against Weber was he was cutting bread prices and also that the goods he sold here are produced or manufactured outside of Kern County. He mentioned he had consulted a Bakersfield councilman and had been advised by him that Weber should be paying $50 quarterly license here as per our ordinance instead of the $5 he was paying.”
Mr. Guthrie took his baking seriously, apparently so much so he made the trip to Bakersfield, which in 1935 most likely meant a ride on the train, the time to meet with another councilman and so on. The city attorney at the time offered to resolve the situation by traveling to Bakersfield as well and meeting with their officials to see how they handled similar situations. It was the attorney’s opinion that Weber was not a “peddler” but an actual business, a notion Mr. Guthrie apparently disagreed with. Not sure how this one panned out but Weber went on to become one of the largest commercial bakeries in the United States and when you hear the term “the best thing since sliced bread,” they were on the forefront of that.
Mr. Guthrie wanted the Weber Company to be treated like an outsider, or a mobile vendor, claiming essentially they weren’t a “local” company and that they should pay more to operate in the city. This is very similar to street vendors, food trucks and other mobile businesses that are still being addressed today. The State of California even recently ruled to allow more leniency for some of these vendors because it was their livelihood. I guess the livelihoods of brick and mortar businesses must come second; we live in an interesting state.
Mr. Guthrie’s concerns were certainly appreciated, and definitely not the first, or the last, of these type of complaints to come before the council as competition for business sometimes gets people concerned. History has taught us that competition makes everyone better, but that also requires the ability and desire to adapt and try new things.
What Mr. Guthrie baked in 1935 would probably be considered “artisan” bread today and fetch a higher price for a darn good reason. What Weber produced was what their successors like Wonder and Bimbo send out today, sliced sandwich bread. Now we have visitors to our city who pay a little more for bread at a place like Kohnen’s because it’s different from anything you can purchase in a grocery store. Talk about full-circle buying habits. It continues to speak to my argument that there’s a place for everybody in our community; not one type of bread will suffice.
It's a nice trip down memory lane and a reminder that many of the issues of society’s past are still relevant today, just in a different context. It seems like street vendors and price wars are nothing new, that’s for certain. By the way, the proprietor of the Juanita Hotel (eventually destroyed in the 1952 earthquake) also spoke at that meeting to complain about the level of the music box being played at the tavern near his hotel, especially “when played at full-volume after bed-time hours.” Guess this issue is as old as amplified music itself.
Thanks for joining me on this historical road trip. As always, if you have any concerns about bread prices, loud music or anything else relating to our city, I’d love to hear from you via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or 822-2200.
Greg Garrett is Tehachapi's city manager.