Column – Digging deeper for coffee

Published 4:31 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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In 1977, Suffolkians proved that no price was too high for coffee. A random sample of restaurants, lunch counters and grocery stores in Suffolk indicated that price increases averaging 20-30% failed to dent the local passion for coffee. Rather surprisingly, one store manager gleefully reported that coffee sales had gone up beyond normal. The coffee drinking situation is not all that surprising to Ed Dunphy, manager of a downtown lunch counter. “If you really want a cup of coffee, you’ll pay 30 cents per cup, if you don’t you won’t pay it.” Dunphy said he raised the price of a cup from 20 cents to 30 cents at his counter. 

Hot coffee may have been needed to stay warm. In February 1977, Virginia suffered from a severe energy crisis.

Gov. Mills E. Godwin ordered that all retail and service businesses limit their working hours to 40 hours weekly and that office thermostats be turned down to 65 degrees. 

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Businesses were not the only places affected by the energy crisis. Suffolk Public Schools adhered to the 65-degree minimum temperature, and thermostats were cut back to 60 degrees after 3 p.m. School activities in the night hours were canceled. 

The energy conservation order resulted in job losses. 

The original conservation order, which went into effect during January 1977, limited industrial and commercial customers to 15% of their daily gas usage. The order prevented Planters Peanuts, Thomas J. Upton Inc., and A&P Nut Processing Co. from using natural gas for processing. During the conservation order, A&P Nut Processing Co. laid off as many as 100 employees. Planters Peanuts also laid off some workers but recalled them when the company switched to propane gas.

In March, consumers faced another shortage amid a fear of a popular artificial sweetener being banned. Food and Drug Administration officials said they would ban sale of saccharin after gigantic quantities of the sweetener was fed to laboratory rats and shown to cause cancer in the animals. The agency said it was required by law to ban any substance which was shown to cause cancer in animals, regardless of the quantity of the substance ingested by the animals.

In response, U.S. Sen. William L. Scott introduced legislation to reverse the federal government’s proposed ban on saccharin. “As all of us know, virtually any safe substance produced for human consumption can be lethal or very harmful if ingested in excessive quantities,” the Virginia senator said. “As many of my colleagues have indicated, removal of saccharin from the marketplace would impose hardships on many millions of people who depend on it as a sugar substitute.” 

Scott said he favored the suggestion that citizens “be informed of the benefits and risks of using saccharin and allowed to make their own personal decisions.”

From artificial sweeteners to corporal punishment, the Supreme Court rulings made the headlines.

In April, the Suffolk Public Schools superintendent clarified that the Supreme Court’s decision that corporal punishment in public schools is constitutional did not give Suffolk city teachers the right to paddle a child without following the School Board’s policy. Under that policy, corporal punishment had to be administered either by a principal or by a teacher in the presence of a principal, and the child had to be allowed to tell his or her side of the story. Director of Pupil Personnel Mack Benn Jr. said he supported the court decision and agreed that prior notice to a child’s parents should not be required. “Superintendent Robert A. Wood said the board’s bylaw is ‘very strict’ and that a child — usually a first-, second-, or third-grader — is paddled ‘only as a last resort when all other reasoning has been exhausted.’ It is used ‘very rarely’ in Suffolk, he said, and he added that no injuries have resulted,” the News-Herald reported.

While coffee prices went up and sweeteners were debated, one business came to town that provided an assortment of food. In June 1977, a Golden Corral steakhouse, the chain’s first in Virginia, was going up across from the Vepco offices on Pruden Boulevard.

In the summer of ’77, the National Council on Alcoholism warned pregnant women to stay away from alcoholic drinks or risk hurting their unborn babies. “Heavy drinking by an expectant mother has been linked to facial defects and damage to a baby’s head, brain, limbs and heart.” The council said the cluster of malformations is known as “fetal alcohol syndrome.” 

As summer drew to a close and students prepared to return to school, there was a new list of requirements for the youngest of students. Suffolk’s school nurse, Juanita Hall, was urging parents to make sure their children met new immunization requirements. All students planning to enter Suffolk schools for the first time were required to have a physical exam and immunizations within 10 days of entering school. School board policy, in compliance with the Code of Virginia, required students to be immunized against diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, German measles, red measles and polio.