On The Silly Side by Jimmy Del Ponte
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Twinkies and Foodmaster, taken from us in the same month? I remember seeing the tall and very well dressed John De Jesus in the Ball Square (Johnnie’s) Foodmaster back in the 60’s. Popping in and out of the Clarendon Hill store (also known as the Alewife store) was easy for me when I needed a few groceries.
A lot of my friends worked there, some for many years. I drove by last night and in a word, it was sad. I remember when they recently put up those new shiny red letters. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago. And now, it’s gone.
I spared myself the emotional jab of seeing the store half empty and in various stages of closing. It was hard enough seeing the people holding the signs on the street announcing the closing. I’ll remember it the way it was the many times I shopped there. Not only was the store very convenient for neighborhood residents to get to, it was a social event when you were in there. You always bumped into someone you knew. I could never just buzz in and out without a quick “Hello, what’s happening?” Us seasoned Villens know that you can’t go anywhere in the ‘Ville without seeing some familiar faces. As I’ve said many times before, that’s one reason you can’t flip the bird at anyone or pull a nutty in traffic anymore (plus the fact that it’s just wrong). The longer you remain in Somerville, the more people get to know who you are. And it’s a shame that all those people lost their jobs. That is a very devastating thing, especially if they were there for years as many were.
Shopping at the Clarendon Hill Foodmaster was like old home day. We got to know the cashiers, the deli people, and especially the friendly managers. So it becomes more than just going out of our way to find a new place to pick up that hunk of meat, gallon of milk, lottery ticket, or loaf of bread. Foodmaster was part of who we are.
I’ve heard rumors of who will occupy the space. Stop ‘N Shop as well and Market Basket and Star/Shaws have been mentioned. I personally would like to see Market Basket go in. They have better prices, period. Trader Joe’s seems to be an unpopular choice according to some of my Somerville friends.
Here is a story that shows the heart of the beloved neighborhood market from a friend. “When we were young we weren’t doing that well after my parents’ divorce and my Mom worked two jobs, so shopping was a task. She would go to the original Johnnie’s Foodmaster in Somerville and ask to borrow a shopping cart, rather than just take one, and they would let her. After a few times the owner, Johnnie De Jesus Sr. had a shopping cart full of staples waiting for her and gave her the groceries and the cart. Her own private carriage! That is true. She would ask, ‘Can I borrow a carriage, and then return it right away to the courtesy booth?’ And I think that they liked that. We wound up doing a lot better, but Johnnies really helped us back then.”
There are so many personal stories regarding Johnnies on Clarendon Hill. One of my best friends used to deliver groceries. Another pal worked in the deli and was also a “bagger” at the Ball Square store. So many of my friends chimed in saying that they worked at Johnnies while in high school starting at $1.60 an hour. Two of my best friends who have been married for years met at the Clarendon Hill store. Were you one of the kids who used to slide on those rollers that were part of the outdoor delivery system? You got a number that corresponded with the cart that rolled your order out to be loaded into your car. Now you remember, right? A bagger was still available to help bring your food out to your car right up until the end.
Although I was never in there, I am told that the Beacon St. Foodmaster was just as popular as the Alewife store. My friend shares this sentiment: “My father played his numbers every day at Johnnie’s for decades and when they announced that they were closing the store, my dad was beside himself.”
For Somerville residents that are very set in their ways, closing stores like Foodmaster is a culture shock. I’ve found that we true Villens do not accept change well. We like our schedules and we like getting into a routine and sticking to it. By the way, I never referred to the store as Foodmaster. It was always “Johnnie’s” to me, and no matter what they put in that sad vacant building, I will always remember that it was where “Johnnie’s” used to be. Johnnie’s Foodmaster will always be a huge part of Somerville history. Thank you and good luck to the De Jesus family and all the employees for many years of service and memories.