Farewell Foodmaster

On December 8, 2012, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

On The Silly Side by Jimmy Del Ponte

(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News, its staff or publishers.)

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.


16 Responses to “Farewell Foodmaster”

  1. j. connelly says:

    As always another great story Jimmy! (Some day that book will be done).
    You are correct. The memories…The Big Blue (UPS size) Delivery van from the Ball Square store. Talking to Johnny, his father & Leo. Dick who later went to work on Somerville’s DPW, I saw him in the hospital last year.

    I noticed that I did not see Dave with the flower truck in the lot last week, though they said they saw him & the wife selling their beautiful flowers in the Johnnies lot Friday. I asked Alderman Bob Trane and he said he’s is working to get another food market in there asap and is going to check & see if Dave’s Flower truck is going to remain there.

    Is gets sadder and sadder to see long time businesses close in this city that once had all those vibrant squares that were always packed with cars/shoppers ( Oh and bikes, one has to be politically (in)correct..lol). Two friends that come from the Worcester and R.I. area that come to visit me both would make sure that they stopped in at Johnnies, they loved the place like the people in this city.

    To all the great employees of Johnnies who faithfully served us and became our friends….THANK YOU!

  2. A. Moore says:

    Another Johnnies guy here. We used the Beacon Street one from the day it opened. After I got married and moved to Teele Square I started with the Alwife one(Old Elm Farm?). I used to see Johnnie in the meat market when I work there. The good places keep disapearing. The Alwife is too small for a lot of stores. I haven’t seen the McKinnons ones with the groceries so I don’t know if their stores are small enough for that spot. Hope it does not end up like the old Star on Broadway.

  3. Jim says:

    I’m really bummed about losing the Foodmaster. Especially the way they did it with no regard for longtime customers and laying off the employees with no severance before Christmas. I thought I knew the Foodmaster, but they didn’t love me the way I loved them. This break-up hurts. I feel jilted.

    Also, an Aldi or Price Chopper would be way better than Shaws or Stop & Shop. Market Basket would be nice, so long as its nothing like the store on Somerville Ave.

  4. MarketMan says:

    …Or a small Wegmans

  5. Moose says:

    Jimmy, I worked at the Ball Square Johnnies (as a bagger) which is now a CVS. One the smaller stores in the Foodmaster dynasty but filled with characters from Somerville.

    I still bag my own groceries and find it hard to believe that the kids who do bag your groceries still put the bread at the bottom of the bag and put all the heavy items on top of the bread.

    Maybe we can organize a Johnnies FoodMaster reunion at the Alwife parking lot.

  6. Ron Newman says:

    CVS moved out of there too – they’re now in Magoun Square. The former Ball Square Johnnie’s is now a dance studio, I think.

  7. gary m. says:

    Hi Jimmy,
    Welcome back!!

    I also was a “Johnnie’s” guy working in Ball Square and Alewife. The catch with Ball Square was that you were a jack of all trades unlike the Alewife store you usually dedicated to a particular department.

    I did see your picture on the Troop 71 Facebook page when you were with the scouts singing Christmas Carols during the sixties in front of what may have been “Johnnie’s’ Ball Square store. I think the store name on the sign read “Johnnie’s Supermarket”. “Johnnie’s” will be missed.

  8. Libertarian says:

    As a somerville ExPat, transplanted from Davis Square to the west coast, reading this story makes me a little sad. I remember being a very little kid and crying because my mom took me to heartland instead of foodmaster. Kids are weird, what can I say?

    As to who will replace foodmaster, my bet is on whomever pays Joe the most.

  9. Free says:

    Personally I would like to see a store with more non-GMO and organic offerings. Some grass-fed beef would be great too. All of these genetically modified, pesticide-covered foods are killing Americans – making us overweight, giving our kids severe allergies, etc. Know what you are buying.

  10. Free,

    I agree! FYI, there is a craft butcher at 201A Highland Avenue whose offerings are only pasture-raised: http://mfdulock.com/

  11. CReeg says:

    I remember them numbering the bags with that big black crayon and then delivering them to our house, as we took the 88 bus home. RIP Johnnie’s, I was taking my mom there pretty close to the end to avoid the parking lot angst of Market Basket on Somerville Ave. I’d like to see a Roche Bros. go in to the Clarendon store.

  12. Joey bags says:

    A large part of the people who live in that area are low or lower income than most of that section of Somerville. Affordability is probably thier number one concern right now.

  13. Boston Kate says:

    I was under the impression that all the Johnny’s sites were going to become Whole Foods. I’m glad that they’re not.

    Jimmy – I hope you do a ‘piece’ on your operation/recovery.

  14. Ron Newman says:

    Johnnie’s on Beacon Street is becoming Whole Foods, but so far nobody has stepped forward to buy and reopen Johnnie’s at Clarendon Hill.

  15. I heard Stop & Shop was interested in the Clarendon Hill location.

  16. A. Moore says:

    Would be nice for the people in the area for a S&S but I can’t imagine them with such a small space since they have expanded on every store they have. Although I do think small market concept is needed. But they do have to make money at it for them. I think Walmart Neighborhood market concept is perfect for there and WInter Hill. I only mentioned Walmart for the concept, if another company does the same that’s fine. I know we have Walmart haters here. Then, maybe S&S is thinking on those lines for more profit. There stores are not that busy for their size.

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