It seems there’s some truth to the old adage what goes around, comes around this week in Webster and Dudley.
If you can remember grocery shopping in the 1960s and 70s at the former Big D, Park n’ Shop and Thrifty Markets in Webster and the A & P in Dudley, then you can remember life in the Webster, Dudley and Oxford areas before Price Chopper, Market Basket and Walmart.
The Big D Supermarket was located at the site of the former Mammoth Mart department store at 118 East Main Street in Webster. This site was also known as ‘The Knolls’ and was once the site of the historic Slater Mansion, Key Department store and Paradis Funeral Home. The Big D Supermarket started its first store in Worcester in 1923 and sold all twelve of their Big D and Wonder Markets properties, including the Webster location, to Price Chopper Supermarkets by 1995.
A couple of blocks down East Main Street at the current location of Brooks Pharmacy, the Park ‘n Shop grocery store was also open for business. Park ‘n Shop began in 1918 on Pleasant Street in Webster and is still owned and operated by the Pappas family with three locations in Southern Worcester County.
Continuing to the corners of Ray and East Main Streets in the small strip mall now housing the Consumer Auto Parts (CAP) and The Flower Garden Florist stores, you’d find Thrifty Market. The Thrifty Market opened in the early 1940s and was locally owned by the Jakubowski family and closed in the 1980s.
Following Main Street east into Dudley, the A&P was open for business on the site that is now the Dollar General store. Often dubbed the Walmart before there was a Walmart, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (better known as A&P) began in 1859 as a small chain of retail tea and coffee stores located in New York City and also included a national mail order business. It grew to 70 stores by 1878. In the late 19th century, A&P became the country’s first grocery chain. By 1936, with 16,000 locations, they became the world’s largest retailer.
A&P’s decline began in the 1950s when it failed to keep pace with even larger, modern supermarkets with features demanded by customers. By the 1970s, A&P stores were out of date and its efforts to combat high operating costs resulted in poor customer service. By the end of 1970s the heirs of the original owners sold the A&P chain to a German company. Today they are primarily in the New York City area.
During the 1990s the former Park ‘n Shop store moved to the Webster Plaza on Worcester Road and was located in the space that is now occupied by Aubuchon Hardware. Soon after they relocated, Shaw’s grocery store expressed interest in building a new grocery store on the empty lot at the north end of the plaza. The Pappas family went to a Webster town meeting and tried to convince the residents not to allow another identical store in the same plaza.
While the residents appreciated their concerns, it was the opinion of the selectmen that they couldn’t withhold a business license based upon competition. So Shaw’s grocery store was built. This of course led to Park ‘n Shop building a new store at the Airport Road location in Dudley.
In 2010, after almost 200 years as one of the oldest fabric mills in America, Cranston Print Works closed its Webster operations and sent production to China. In 2012 the property was sold to Webster resident, founder and owner of Galaxy Development, Mike O’Brien. In 2013 a new shopping center was built, East Village Square, with Price Chopper vacating its previous location and relocating to become the new anchor store.
This brings us back to Webster and Shaw’s. On Tuesday, January 14th, after struggling from losing customers to the Walmarts in Oxford and Northbridge, the Market Basket built in 2011 in Oxford and the new Price Chopper, the Webster Shaw’s announced to its employees that they would be closing on February 20, 2014.
In 1860, George Shaw opened a small teashop in Portland, Maine. Meanwhile, Maynard Davis established a group of small downtown grocery stores in Brockton and New Bedford, Massachusetts, called Brockton Public Market (BPM). In 1919, Davis purchased the George Shaw Company and made it a subsidiary of BPM. In 1978, BPM stores in Massachusetts became Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. to maximize advertising. In November 1983 the J Sainsbury PLC, then the United Kingdom’s largest supermarket group, purchased 21 percent of Shaw's outstanding stock and by 1987, Sainsbury’s had acquired controlling interest.
In 2004, Sainsbury sold Shaw’s to Albertsons which was subsequently sold in 2006 to SuperValu. At its peak in 2006, Shaw’s operated more than 200 stores in New England; however, with the three stores closing in the Massachusetts area, that number has been reduced to 74.
SuperValu, the third largest food retailing company in America, sold 877 stores (the Albertson's, Acme, Shaw’s and Star Market chains) to Cerberus Capital Management in January, 2013. Cerberus Capital Management, L.P. is an American private equity firm based in New York City with global holdings, including government and private sector pension and retirement funds, charitable foundations, university endowments, insurance companies, family savings, and sovereign wealth funds.
This brings us back to where we started. Does anyone remember life in the Webster, Dudley and Oxford areas before Price Chopper, Market Basket and Walmart?
I do and will miss shopping at Shaw’s. The parking lot that was always plowed both during and right after a storm and finding a parking space didn’t require a reservation. The staff was friendly and the prices were comparable to the other stores. I could often get what I needed by just shopping within the plaza.
And speaking of the Webster Plaza, the Dollar Tree store will also be relocating as soon as its new store is finished being built by Galaxy Development at the former Webster Nursery location across from the East Village Square – where Price Chopper is located.
Rumor has it that there’s going to be a Mexican restaurant located next to the Dollar Tree but the name of that business is known only to Mike O’Brien and he’s not ready to share that information.
Which brings us to another change happening in Webster.
It seems the rumor mill has also been busy churning out information claiming that the 40 year-old Wind Tiki Restaurant at 154 Thompson Road in closing. This is not exactly accurate.
In March 2014, after 40 years of serving Chinese food, the business will be changing ownership. According to the current owner (who requested that I not identify him because it’s not about him but about the business and the staff) the restaurant will NOT be closing and the doors will remain open and the cooks and wait staff will continue as they makes some changes and improvements to the menu and décor.
“It’s not about who owns the Wind Tiki but about the food and the people who made it the success it has always been,” said the proud owner.
After sitting and talking with this humble mystery man for almost an hour it’s easy to understand why he wants to sing the praises of his staff and the food. The conversation could’ve easily lasted another hour or more as he described how he started, the culture of the clients and the future for the restaurant.
Next month we’ll share that story with you about how Nectarland (the first drive-up and car-hop fast food restaurant in Webster) became Dante’s Inferno which then became the Wind Tiki.
If you have information about a local business in the Auburn, Charlton, Dudley, Oxford or Webster area and would like to know more about what you’ve heard or the history behind the location, please contact Ginger Costen at: firstname.lastname@example.org.