During the 1930s, the lobby of Louisville Water Company’s old Third Street office became increasingly congested with customers paying their bills. The cause of the congestion was not a sudden influx of new customers; it was existing customers paying their bills more often because the company was well on its way to becoming a fully metered system.
Under the old flat-rate system, customers paid their bills semi-annually. With metered service, they paid monthly. To cut down on the crowds in the lobby and provide more convenience, Louisville Water began letting customers pay at 43 local authorized substations.
Although this was a new policy for the company, this method of payment was not new to many customers. The model Louisville Water used was the system that Louisville Gas & Electric had put in place years earlier. Beginning in 1935, Louisville Water customers could pay their bills at the same locations where they paid their electric bills. “Hold up insurance” was provided to those who handled the payments.
Seven years later, in a nod to the War Effort, Louisville Water placed an advertisement listing 40 payment substations, encouraging customers to “save time – save gas and tires.”
The substations were not only a convenience for Louisville Water customers but also a way for the authorized businesses to attract new customers for themselves. In 1951, a classified ad for an unidentified hardware store claimed, “one of the outstanding features of this hardware business … is that it houses a Water Company office which brings several thousand people into this store every month to pay their water bills.”
In 1967 and 1973, Facts Unfiltered, a customer newsletter from Louisville Water, printed lists of 80 authorized substations. Pharmacies made up more than half of the “convenient locations for water bill payment.” Hardware stores were the second most common location. Department stores, grocery stores, and a couple of banks rounded out the rest of the listings.
At some point, these substations were discontinued because of several factors, including competition that smaller, individually-owned businesses faced from larger national chains and big box stores.
But the idea of offering convenient ways to pay has never gone away at Louisville Water. Today, customers can choose from a wide range of options, including the new Pure Connect online portal and thousands of CheckFreePay locations that still include pharmacies, grocery stores, and department stores.