May 26, 2006


Roll on, Big O. Get that juice up to Lawson's in 40 hours.
Well, the oranges ripen in the Florida sun. Sweet on the tree they stay.
Then they pick 'em and they squeeze 'em just as quick as you please.
And the Big O leaves the same day.
Roll on, Big O. Get that juice up to Lawson's in 40 hours.
Well, one man sleeps while the other man drives on the nonstop Lawson's run.
And the cold, cold juice* in that tank truck caboose stays as fresh as the Florida sun.
Roll on, Big O. Get that juice up to Lawson's in 40 hours.

If you grew up in Ohio as I did, that commercial song is as indelibly etched on your brain as "I'd like to teach the world to sing . . ." and "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is." The sky-blue, shield-shaped logo with white wild-west thick serif lettering was an integral feature of the Ohio landscape. To call Lawson's a convenience store like 7-Eleven or White Hen is an injustice. It served more as a neighborhood market for staples. Back then many families still had milk and bread delivered; everyone else went to Lawson's.

Our Lawson's was on a single commercial-zoned block directly across from my elementary school, surrounded by houses. On this minuscule strip, there was a gas station, a pharmacy, and at varying times during my childhood, a record store, a barbershop, a shoe repair and a soda fountain.

Every evening after dinner, my father would walk the four blocks to Lawson's, carrying empty bottles to return, smoking a cheap cigar, either alone or with one of us in tow. He would buy the evening Akron Beacon Journal, a half gallon of milk, a loaf of bread and occasionally, a bag of Salem potato chips or a half gallon of chocolate milk.

All the Lawson's were identical. Two long narrow aisles flanked by shelves led to a low counter. Behind the lone cashier were glass-fronted, wood-framed refrigerators with milk and juice. In summer, we rode our bikes there to buy nickel Popsicles from the low freezer at the entrance. For 15 or 20 cents, there were other novelties, Fudgesicles, Creamsicles, ice cream sandwiches.

At some point, around the time I was in high school and had long since lost interest in Popsicles, all the Lawson's stores quietly disappeared. I never gave them a second thought, until, after a decade of living in Chicago, I visited Japan.

If you are a westerner on a first visit to Japan or have seen Sophia Coppola's brilliant film, Lost in Translation, you know that being there can be a completely disconcerting experience. In 1993, at the height of Japan's economic bubble, the dollar was worth bupkes to the yen. In a country of 125 million people, I was the single non-Japanese-speaking western tourist. It was both thrilling and baffling. For example, experienced world traveler that I am, I requested an address list of ATM machines from my U.S. bank. However, as I found out--JAPANESE STREETS HAVE NO NAMES. The locals get around by identifying locations by landmarks or asking someone for directions. I had to just wander around endlessly in what I hoped were smaller concentric circles until I stumbled onto my destination. By the way, Japanese ATM's are INSIDE buildings, usually on upper floors.

But, on almost every single corner in Japan, there is a Lawson's. It was as if there was a small wrinkle in the time/space continuum. All the stores had slipped through the portal from 1960s Ohio to appear here decades later in Japan. Roll on, Big O. It was exactly as the Lawson's stores I remembered. Here were the same two aisles, the candy display, the bread and pastries on the middle island. I looked at the fridge. The packaging was exactly the same, save for the hiragana lettering. Blue for whole milk, half blue and half gold for 2%, gold for skim, green for buttermilk. I couldn't find the Imperial Palace with a map and guide book, but I could tell small curd cottage cheese from large curd at 15 paces.

I met up with some Japanese acquaintances later in a trip. The strange comfort/thrill of seeing six different Lawson's every day still hadn't worn off. I told them how Lawson's was originally an Ohio dairy, before being a chain of stores. They listened politely. "Lawson's is Japanese," they insisted. There was no point in arguing.

I have eaten at Dunkin' Donuts in Buenos Aires, at McDonalds in Moscow. If there is a KFC at the magnetic north pole, I would not be surprised. But for me, Lawson's so strongly evoked a certain era; the 60s and 70s of my childhood and a specific geographic location; northeastern Ohio, that my entire time in Japan felt like I had traveled through the looking glass. Not so for the Japanese. Lawson's has been part of their landscape since the late 70s. It doesn't have any corporate heritage beyond that. In the 21st century, Lawson's exists everywhere in Japan, and nowhere else. Lawson's IS Japanese.

When I got home, I showed this photo to several friends. Like me, they are now in their 40s, Chicago transplants from Cleveland, Akron, Kent, Barberton. The response was exactly the same each time. Eyes widen. "Roll on, Big O," they sang. "Get that juice up to Lawson's in 40 hours."

*Thanks, Mark, for correcting my lyrics.

Kyoto 1993

Short corporate history of Lawson Dairy Stores
Lawson history (thanks, Phil!)


Lawmom128 said...

Lydia, I'm enjoying all your blogs(?), but this one certainly did take me back to another time. I think we have lost a lot not having the corner store anymore, just gas stations with high prices and limited selection. And who wants to send their kid to the gas station. The picture was great and I hate to admit I could still sing the song. My mind retains all kinds of useful info like that. Well if I ever have a hankering for some Lawson's chip dip I'll know where to go.

Janet said...

Lydia - what a wonderful blast to our past! Now that we live in the "country" with no amenities within miles, I secretly wish for a Lawson's within walking distance. The national park that seperates us from civilization would never hear of it, but my son is missing something very special, indeed. Pat and I still sing the jingle around our house. I'm thrilled that you've provided us with the exact words. Your memory always was better than mine. I love your blog!

joseph said...

This is unbelievable!! I too grew up in Akron and remember hoarding empty Pepsi bottles in the basement, then taking them back to Lawson's for the refund. And now you tell me that Lawson's are everywhere in JAPAN?? This is momentous. People need to be alerted to this. Something is terribly wrong (or right) in the world.

Do they have French Onion chip dip?

daveFOH1964 said...

First off: Wasn't it 48 hours? Have I been singing it wrong all these years? Can I call Garfield1-2323 to confirm???

As to the French Onion Dip: When Dairy Mart took over, They kept makong the dip, and used the Lawson's name on it. Recently, Circle K has taken over the stores, and thanfully, the dip remains!

Chris said...

Do you remember their animated commercial with the little kid kicking the ball? He said, "Soooooooo what?" when asked why milk was so important, as if he hadn't a care in the world. I'd love to see that commercial again. Maybe the next time I'm in Tokyo. :-)
Thanks for these memories. I'm from Youngstown.

Anonymous said...

Chevy, Chevy
See Commander Ray
At West Park Chevrolet

Just a hit-and-run Cleveland Memory :)

BTW, the Big-O Orange Juice commercial is posted on YouTube. Go there and search for "Lawsons Big-O Orange Juice Commercial"

There are other blast-from-the-past videos in the "Related Videos" box to the left.


Anonymous said...

Let's see, I thought all the Borden Dairies were gone, but they sell Borden's cheese (with Elsie and everything) in Myrtle Beach, SC. Had a friend who got a job at the Borden's plant on Market St. as a chemist. She walked in, said she was a chemist, and they hired her. This was around 1979. Guess the job situation wasn't so bad after all back then...

Also missed, as their present incarnations are sadly lacking...

Isaly's. Although the old ice cream factory still sits forlornly on Mahoning Ave. Leading into Youngstown. You can buy the chipped chopped ham and the BBQ sauce, but little else.

Miller's Horseradish. Used to drive by the small factory on my way into Boardman on rte 224. Locked up for a few years now. Easter isn't the same without a jar of the beet horseradish to go with the kielbasi and roast ham.

Stuart said...

I just wanted to note that not all Lawson's stores were the same format. Yes, I do remember some that were narrow and deep, but I also remember some that were wider than they were deep.

The wide ones seemed to be laid out differently from one another too, with some having the counter at the back and some at the side neatest the door.

Some wide ones: Ghent and Crawfis (across from Summit Mall), Steels Corners and State Rd (at the time I think it was still Northampton), 303 and 176 in Richfield, and N. Portage Path near Riverview/Merriman. (The Mustard Seed started out in this same little plaza.)

terry said...

As I was reading the lyrics to the Lawson jingle I was hearing the music in my head and "seeing" that shiny stainless steel tanker rolling down the highway in that commercial. Thanks for taking me back.

Anonymous said...


Lawson's Dip Fan said...

LOVE the Lawson's chip dip; the Undsiputed World Dip Champ! Now I'm going to have to run over to Willoughby(nearest Circle K) on my way home from work!

Zip in Paradise said...

Guess what Lyd -- they're baaaaack!

This ex-Green Bulldog and Akron Zip will be the first Akronite to visit the new Lawsons store in the Sheraton Waikiki. Aloha Lawsons from Hawai'i nei.

Richard in Honolulu ( please do not publish address

Anonymous said...

Guess what Lyd -- they're baaaaack! This ex-Green Bulldog and Akron Zip will be the first Akronite to visit the new Lawsons store in the Sheraton Waikiki. Aloha Lawsons from Hawai'i nei. Richard in Honolulu

Dan Fauver said...

Cool story! I worked for the agency that created the Lawson's Big-O advertising and jingle. Wyse Advertising. Marc Wyse died two years ago and the memoir he was working on just got published. And here's his Facebook page:

I wish he would have seen your post. He would have absolutely loved it!

runciblespn said...

Thanks, Dan. I want to have a look at that book! L

runciblespn said...
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