If it is ever possible to feel sad visiting a meat market, Wednesday was the day.
I stopped by Romano’s Market in Fitchburg this week just to say goodbye. It was a place I didn’t frequent a lot, but visited occasionally. I love the place for what it is – a small family-owned business that has kept its standards for more than 100 years.
In the television show “Cheers,” the bar was the place where everyone knows your name. Romano’s has been the kind of place where everyone felt like family – the workers, the customers and, of course, the family. The people who worked there were friendly, helpful and welcoming.
Unfortunately, Romano’s is closing. The shelves were half-empty on Wednesday, and longtime customers were stopping in, hoping to stock up on the store’s popular sausages or cuts of meat. Today is the last day. At 5 p.m. the family will close the doors, probably forever. It is a deep loss for Fitchburg and for anyone who appreciates family businesses.
Romano’s has been in Fitchburg for 113 years. Five generations of the Romanos have worked there. The decision to close was not an easy one for the family. It was not about how much money the business was making. It was decided to close after owner Michael Romano, the heart and soul of the business for many, many years, passed away in January from cancer. He was 69 years old. With no one ready to take over from him, it was decided it was time to call it a good run and move on.
If you are an accountant, you might say Fitchburg is losing a relatively small business, but Romano’s is more than the dollars and cents it generates. These small family-owned businesses are what give communities character. The same week I stopped by Romano’s, I visited Priscilla Candy Shop in Gardner to pick up something for Valentine’s Day. It is the same kind of business – family owned – run by the same family for generations. It is also a place you would want to go even if you did not live nearby.
At Romano’s they cut their meat to order. At Priscilla’s they make their own candy. Part of the fun of visiting a family business is you get to meet the family. Having frequented many family businesses that are no longer there, I can appreciate the love the people who work there have for what they do, even when they have already decided they can no longer continue.
Where I live in northern Central Massachusetts I have seen small businesses close one after another. I used to buy my meat and groceries at Atter’s Market in Gardner. When that closed I started buying meat at Bonk’s Market, also in Gardner, enjoying the banter between customers and employees as I waited for my order. When Bonk’s closed, I started going to a variety of places. There are still family-run butcher shops where people will cut your meat for you, but there are fewer and fewer. In recent years in Worcester several family-owned businesses have closed their doors. Three that come quickly to mind are Elwood Adams Hardware Store, Lincoln Stamp and Coin and Living Earth Market and Cafe.
Everything sold in these places can be found somewhere else, but what is lost is the experience of visiting there, the care the owners put into the businesses and, again, the feeling you are part of whatever is going on there.
These days it seems like when something closes locally, something new opens in Worcester. As other markets closed, the Worcester Public Market at Kelley Square was opening. The atmosphere is not quite the same as individual family markets. It is a place where 23 businesses can gather to sell their wares. Some are small family-owned businesses and some are opening up a satellite to their main business. It is hoped the place can become a gathering spot, and a place to socialize.
I am not sure when this country went from locally connected businesses to faceless megastores. In too many cases, the big box chains forced local hardware and grocery stores and even the smaller general merchandise stores out of business. Now the internet is pushing the bigger brick and mortar stores out of business, disconnecting people further from what they buy.
The world changes. What our parents remember from their communities is not what we remember or what our children will remember. We hope each generation comes up with something great, but it would be difficult to find better places to go than Romano’s Market, Elwood Adams Hardware, Lincoln Stamp and Coin or Living Earth Market and Cafe.
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