Skip to main content

Grocery Saga--revisited

by Ginger Costen

As a journalist, my first obligation is to present our readers with reliable and accurate facts written in a meaningful context. This “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts.

My first obligation as an equally devoted wife is to listen and never question what my husband is telling me, especially since he was born, raised and never left (except for serving in the Army) his beloved Webster. This “wifely adoration” is a process that begins with the discipline of never questioning something as simple as the address where he used to work.

This brings us to the subject matter for this month’s column: never trust Mike Costen’s memory… well at least when you’re asking him for an address.

So let’s begin this continuing (and hopefully) final saga of the supermarkets with correcting my inaccurate information: Thrifty Market was not located at the corner of East Main and Ray Streets because those two streets run parallel to each other. The market was located on the corner of East Main and Cody Streets. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused for anyone who was looking to shop at Thrifty Market.  

Now as that same journalist, one of the most satisfying moments is when a reader sends me an email, letter, card, calls or even stops me when I’m out and about in the community to let me know how much they’ve enjoyed something that I’ve written. So you can imagine how excited I got when three letters and one person arrived at the Yankee Shopper, 16 emails appeared in my mail box, two phone messages were left on my home phone and three people stopped me while I was out shopping. I’ve officially been a journalist now for 12 years and that’s more than I’ve collectively received since I started in 2002.

So let’s continue with both an explanation and an expression of appreciation:

The appreciation first. THANK YOU! I love hearing – both good and bad – from our readers. It helps me stay focused and feel a sense of relevance. I hope what I’m writing has merit and value in your life. I hate it when my time is wasted  so for a reader to take the time out of their life to read something I’ve written is an honor. For them to take even more time and express their feelings back to me is a privilege that I do not take lightly.  So I sincerely appreciate all the comments and additional information that so many or you graciously provided.

Now let me give you my explanation and thought process behind the supermarket saga.   

As my research grew I found it ironic that the very grocery store which was once the reason for other smaller stores having to close or relocate, was now following in those very same steps. Park ‘n Shop was located in the Webster Plaza and when the bigger store, Shaw’s, moved in they ultimately moved out. Now years later, the next generation of super stores have moved into our area and Shaw’s was closing.    

“Several of the stores were right next door to each other and when one ran out of something they’d go to one of the other stores and get what they needed.”

-Clem Starosta

I also found the history of all of these stores most interesting and again ironic in how most of them started as  small mom-and-pop locations only to buy out other similar stores as their business grew. Shaw’s started as a tea shop in Portland, Maine, and ultimately, because of acquisitions and mergers, became the second largest supermarket company in New England.  

Yet, today they’ve closed three stores in Massachusetts because larger stores moved into their respective areas. In 2009 Shaw’s had 200 stores throughout New England and now, according to their own website, they have 155 stores with 22 in Maine, 78 in Massachusetts, 28 in New Hampshire, 8 in Rhode Island and 19 in Vermont. 

While I realized there certainly had to be other small markets located in Webster, I tried to stay focused on the idea that even big stores are not immune from the competition of superstores. I wanted to show the irony of the relationship of Price Chopper and Shaw’s. The article wasn’t meant to be a directory of all the previous markets in Webster.

Which now leads the saga to our final installment with yet another thank you.

Because of the communications I received, it became my quest to find as many of those markets as possible. This led me to one of the funniest and most entertaining characters I’ve met (next to Mike Costen) in Webster: Clem Starosta.

I know we can trust Clem to give me the accurate information for according to Clem, his grandkids asked him once how he could know so many people and he told them it’s all about trust. “It’s because I look people straight in the eye and give them a good solid handshake,” he explained. “And besides, when a person has a ‘T’ in their last name, you can trust them,” Starosta laughed.

Clem began with telling me about the Kajawski Market at 20 Harris Street. “I starting working there when I was fourteen years-old and it was the first market to go door to door and deliver groceries. We had a refrigerated truck and we’d deliver three days a week in Webster and three days a week in Dudley and Connecticut.”

Some of the local farmers would barter with their fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products for items in Kajawski’s Market. “We’d run a tab and people would charge their orders and then pay at the end of the week. Come Monday it would start all over again,” he added. Like so many of the other markets, Kajawski’s was a family operation with the living area being housed above the store.

Podbielski’s Market was located on Robinson Street off of Lake Street. “They were a father and son market and after he graduated from high school, he went to college and became one of the top doctors at Saint Vincent Hospital,” Starosta continued.

Leyman’s Market was on the corner of Lake and New Streets. Gion’s was on the corners of Granite and Lake Streets. Jablonski’s was located at the corner of Lake and Negus Streets. Vajcovec’s was at Granite and Washington Streets. Mother’s Market was on Pearl Street while Neslusan’s was on School Street and Zalta’s was on Davis Street.

Szynal Market, located on Lake Street, was also a family store. “Szynal was managed by a spirited lady that wore an apron was the outspoken family matriarch. She wanted to be known as the best market in Webster,” said Starosta.

Tomasek’s, Gilbert’s (Chippy) markets were all located along North Main Street. Manzi’s and NEC (New England Cash Market) were on Main Street while Big Town and Bartolomei’s markets were on South Main Street.

And not to be without a national chain, First National Stores had two locations in Webster. One was on Lake and Granite Streets while the other was at School and Main Streets. At one point, First National Stores was one of America’s largest grocery chains. In the 1970s, the company was purchased by the owners of Pick ‘n Pay stores in Cleveland. During this time, the New England stores were operating under the Finast and Edwards names.

The company was purchased in the 1990s by Ahold, a Dutch corporation and one of the largest global food retailers. Ahold later purchased competitor Stop & Shop, and ultimately converted the Edwards stores to this name.

Stop & Shop's roots can be traced back to 1914, when the Rabinovitz family founded the Economy Grocery Stores Company in Somerville, Massachusetts. By 1947, Economy Grocery Stores had grown to a chain of 86 supermarkets and the name of the company was changed to Stop & Shop, Inc.

Another national chain, A&P was also on Main Street but previously discussed in our first article.  

“Several of the stores where right next door to each other and when one ran out of something they’d go to one of the other stores and get what they needed,” Starosta said.

Clem Starosta worked in the retail food industry for 51 years. “I went to meat cutting school in Ohio for nine months and learned everything from cutting meat to owning a business,” he said. “I worked at Kajawski’s, King’s, Nu-Way, First National, McCracken’s and Price Chopper’s.” Mr. Starosta also served as a cook during his time in the Army. “I’ve been around the block, in a taxi,” he laughed.

According to the Webster-Dudley Historical Society and Images of America Webster (2005; Arcadia Publishing) by John Mrazik, Carla Manzi and James Manzi, one of the earliest markets was the Nicholas Gilles market and grocery store that advertised “fresh hot rolls every day at 4 p.m.” They also reference Felix Klys’s City Market, Mrazik’s, Gevry’s Market (located on the corner of Main and Union Streets), Wagner’s, Ozaniak’s, Dandurand’s, Johnny Chauvin’s and Dwyer’s Markets as well as the E.H. Horton Company (started as a market and then changed to furniture) in their book and photos.

But the biggest response from my original story was the history behind the old Price Chopper store at 118 East Main Street.

It seems there were several Slater Mansions in Webster but the one I referenced was the mansion at what was called ‘The Knolls’.  The mansion was built in 1865 by James Howe for his wife Elizabeth, the granddaughter of Samuel Slater. The mansion was sold in 1937 to Clarence Paradis for both a residence as well as a funeral home. In the 1960s the mansion and property were sold for commercial development. The Key Department Store was built first, later becoming the Mammoth Mart. Beside the department store a number of grocery stores followed.

Clem Starosta remembers the development of grocery stores as the Nu-Way Market being first, then Iandoli’s, Big D and Price Chopper. Phyllis and Paul Hughes remember Labonte’s followed by Iandoli’s in the 1970’s, Bid D’s Market in the 1980s and ultimately Price Chopper in the 1990s.  (Phyllis worked for Big D’s for four years and has been with Price Chopper for 18 years.) While James Kozlowski remembers it as King Market, McCracken, Iandoli’s and then Price Chopper.

After getting the information about Iandoli’s Supermarket from all the emails, I tried to find more about the family and the company. However, this wasn’t easy and presented a challenge taking me all the way to the Italian Genealogy and Massachusetts Food Association websites.

Unfortunately, after hours of research all I could find about this company is a stack of obituaries for people who worked for Iandoli’s Supermarkets in the Worcester area. Many of these former employees worked thirty or more years with the company so the history has to be somewhere. I found it sad that a young woman that was begging for information on the Italian Genealogy website about her grandfather who left Italy and eventually settled in Massachusetts opening a family grocery. But no one offered her any real leads to follow.

And, although there are quite a few people in Massachusetts with the last name of Iandoli, the only information that I can find about a supermarket chain which had to have been in operation for at least 30 years, are the obituaries for former employees and the date that Shaw’s Supermarkets purchased the last of the Iandoli’s assets in 1987 for 12.75 million dollars.  

Now to Park ‘n Shop.  According to its website, the family business began in the early 1900’s when Albanian born Alex Pappas opened a small grocery market on Pleasant Street in Webster. Alex’s sons, Peter and Charlie, grew up working in the store with their father.

By 1950, after a couple of location changes and a name change to the present Park ‘n Shop, Charlie Pappas had gone out on his own with the Dudley Park ‘n Shop branch while Peter Pappas kept the Webster branch of the chain.

The Dudley location on West Main Street quickly outgrew its building and moved to the present location on Airport Road, the former First National Store, when that site became available. The East Main Street moved to a larger location at the Webster Plaza on Worcester Road in what is now Aubuchon. That location closed right after Shaw’s opened and did not relocate.

Currently the branch owned by Charlie Pappas, operates three stores located in Dudley, Auburn and Blackstone.

According to the Demoulas’s Market Basket website, there are currently 71 stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire with others under development in Maine.  The Demoulas family emigrated from Greece in 1916 and opened a small store in Lowell, Massachusetts specializing in fresh lamb. In 1954, they sold their store to two of their six children and within 15 years, the two brothers had transformed their parents’ mom-and-pop store into a chain consisting of 15 stores. According to the Oxford store manager, their location opened in 2010 and not 2011 as I had previously mentioned.

Which now brings us back to the premise of the grocery store saga. 

Gilbert Market on North Main Street

No matter the size of the market or the history of the company, there’s always someone willing to build a bigger and better market which eventually puts another store out of business.  What goes around comes around… especially in the grocery store business.  

Hopefully you’ve made it to the end and this has cleared up the history of the grocery store business in Webster. Thank you all of your help. My next story is about Nectarland and the history behind that location. I’d greatly appreciate hearing from anyone who has any information. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to go grocery shopping. I might try either Big Y or Big Bunny in Southbridge.