- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

WEST FARGO, N.D.

Troy Miller steps lightly onto the dark porch, careful not to let the frozen snow crunch too loudly under his feet. When he does speak, it's barely above a whisper.

"This guy's a policeman," he says, carefully placing two half-gallon cartons of milk on the porch. "I've been delivering to his family for years."

Then, as quietly as he approached he walks almost on tiptoe Mr. Miller makes his way back to his white truck with its big engine humming quietly, and heads down the darkened street.

It's 5 a.m. The sun is still a solid hour from poking over the horizon. Mr. Miller, 32, is not quite halfway through his daily delivery route, dropping off milk, butter and eggs to his customers.

Yes, the milkman still cometh. Often seen as a throwback to a time before supermarkets and convenience stores, milk deliverers still make their rounds in a world of "I need it now."

"It's an interesting job," said Mr. Miller, a driver for McCann's Home Dairy of Fargo. "There's a quiet solitude about it that I like… . I've got two little boys at home. This is often the only quiet time I get."

Francis McCann has operated McCann's Home Dairy for 12 years. His four drivers and fleet of trucks serve about 1,600 households in the Fargo area.

Business is brisker than ever, Mr. McCann said. Instead of signaling the end of milk delivery, these busy times actually have helped boost profits because so many families are on the go.

"It's like there's a little elf that comes and replaces your milk twice a week, a little tooth fairy of sorts," said Sarah Gackle, a mother of four who runs a day care service. "You never see him, but you know he's been there."

Mrs. Gackle has been a customer of Mr. McCann's for about seven years. She pays slightly more for home delivery about 15 cents per half-gallon more than at the grocery but she's happy to pay it.

"That's a deal," she said. "Fifteen cents more to have it delivered to my door? I call that a bargain."

Like most customers, Mrs. Gackle has a standing order for a certain number of milk cartons each week. But if she needs more or less she can call Mr. McCann the night before or just leave a note tacked to her front door.

The estimated 12 to 30 companies nationwide that still deliver milk to homes represent a tiny part of the $18 billion worth of milk sold annually, but experts say their popularity has grown strongest in urban areas of the Northeast.

"Life is getting so hectic that people are looking for ways to free up their time. They don't want to spend 20 minutes in a line at the grocery store if they don't have to," said Jim Carroll, president of the International Home Delivery Association, a trade group that tracks popularity of home delivery products.

Mr. Carroll also is owner of the third-generation Crescent Ridge Dairy in Sharon, Mass., just outside Boston. The dairy delivers fresh milk still in real glass bottles to 9,000 customers.

Mr. Carroll said a half-gallon of milk, delivered in a returnable glass bottle, costs his customers about 20 cents above what a half-gallon carton would cost at the grocery store.

Convenience isn't the only reason for home delivery, he said.

"It has a little to do with nostalgia," he said. "They like the old-fashioned kind of personalized service. For many, it's a reminder of a happier time when things weren't so rushed."

The trend has even hit smaller dairies, who are switching back to glass bottles to expand their business, said Murray Bain, vice president of marketing for Stanpac, a Smithville, Ontario, company that makes the bottles.

For Mrs. Gackle, the personalized style of home milk delivery has made her a loyal customer. One of her biggest worries was whether she still would be able to get milk delivered to her new home.

"They said it would be no problem," she said. "That's what's so wonderful about it. That little extra effort."

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