Life in the Ville by Jimmy Del Ponte
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
“Before there was Home Depot or Lowe’s, my family always went to Somerville Lumber for any home project that needed to be done.” Somerville Lumber was located on McGrath Highway in the area where Stop & Shop is now. You may remember the huge American flag that flew over Somerville Lumber.
I can still see those red shirts that the employees wore. I can’t believe how many people I know who used to work at Somerville Lumber. Some of the best appliances I ever bought were from there, and lots of people have told me that they still have items purchased from Somerville Lumber. As a matter of fact, I’m on my second washing machine, and my tenants are still using the washer and dryer we bought at Somerville Lumber years ago! Many sheets of wood paneling that still adorn many Somerville homes were purchased there.
Somerville Lumber was owned by the Cohen family, and they were very well liked. At one time, it was the single largest single-site distributor of Armstrong floor products in the U.S. “We would sell you your lumber, cut it up, load it and tie it onto your vehicle … not just point you to a box of string and leave you to fend for yourself.”
A former employee recalls, “I worked there for 8 1/2 years and was a proud member of the “Red Eye Crew.” We used to actually call over the paging system for the “Crew” to come to the time clock so we could all go to Moriarty’s for liquid lunch and darts. What great times we had at Somerville Lumber. Good people.”
Another friend says, “I met my husband while working there. It was a great place to work … we had a lot of fun.” Kids had fun causing a ruckus in the doorbell-display area and hiding and playing in the lumber yard.
“The staff was friendly and helpful and they felt like a family. The owner would actually send bouquets of flowers sometimes when an employee had a new baby.”
“I remember this one time, these guys came in and bought a ton of sheetrock and wanted it on top of their VW van -the old hippie kind with the rounded roof. As we’re loading it, the roundness of the roof starts to flatten out, and even though I’m telling them this ain’t cool, they say to keep going. We loaded it up and tied it down. They left with the roof flattened down and not much spring left in the suspension. It was a pretty funny sight. Lots of people would pull out of there with their rear ends (dragging) down and their front wheels barely touching the ground.”
In the mid-70s, there was a fire. When it was rebuilt, it wasn’t the claustrophobic two-story building anymore. The new building sprawled along McGrath Highway with a parking lot, lumberyard and loading area.
There is still a store called Somerville Lumber in Bridgewater, N.J.!
Somerville Lumber was a family-run business, and it really was like a big family. Many friendships and relationships blossomed and endure today.
There was a reunion of employees in 2009, and many former Somerville Lumber employees still keep in touch. Someone “who was there” told us that Somerville Lumber closed its doors in October 1997, citing “the continuing weakness in the New England economy.”
The saga of Somerville Lumber takes its place in the city’s grand history of businesses gone by. You don’t have to look too far to find someone in the city who has something good to say about the old Somerville Lumber store.