Search for Boston and New England memories

Old School Radio Shack in Bedford and Woburn, Mass.

It's a shame that Radio Shack recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but comes as no surprise as online and big-box brick and mortar electronics retailers have a virtual monopoly on the industry.

I can't help but think, however, that a little bit of good old fashioned customer service might have tipped the scales in a more positive direction for the once giant electronics retailer.

Case in point: back in the 1970s, a young man named Peter Reed worked at the Bedford and Woburn, Mass., Radio Shacks, and made our trips there worthwhile every time. Peter loved his job, truly enjoyed helping customers, and had this great mind that always made me wonder why he wasn't at MIT instead of Radio Shack. Most importantly, Peter came across as human and one who could talk with anyone from a nine-year-old kid like me that loved radios to the grown-up technically savvy egghead looking to challenge his knowledge.  While the revolving door of eggheads always thought they were the smartest men in the room, it was almost always Peter who came across with the greatest know-how -- and he didn't even know it, given his humble nature.

During the "me decade," Peter with his glasses, wide smile and plain short haircut came across somewhat old-fashioned and out-of-place -- even at his very young age -- but that was a good thing.  He knew his stuff, always exhibited "consideration of others" before it became a mandatory class at some private and public sectors, and generally became the face of those two Radio Shacks. When was the last time we could say that about a Radio Shack employee?

Sure, I have run across some good employees at Radio Shack through the years but, unfortunately, not at a uniform level -- that is, where the majority of workers adhered to the highest standard possible. I remember inquiring about a certain air purifier at a local Rado Shack, and the surfer dude-like employee said, "Yes, like that a real good brand." He could not go beyond that initial statement when pressed with my questions that sought detailed answers.

In all fairness, however, I am not so sure that any type of high-standard uniformity existed back in the day -- and that perhaps Peter Reed was just a stellar exception rather than the rule. Who really knows?

Here it is nearly 45 years later and I still remember this great Radio Shack employee. I always wondered what happened to Peter, and if he stayed with Radio Shack or went onto another career. Whatever the case, Peter made the Bedford and Woburn Radio Shacks special places.

Radio Shack will sell as many as 2,400 stores to Sprint and an affiliate of hedge fund Standard General.   Hopefully, the powers that be can hire a lot of Peter Reeds to make the next chapter of business operation stay strong for the long run.

Great Meteorologists on Channel 7 WNAC and WNEV TV in the 1970s

As a family, we almost always watched WBZ-TV Channel 4 for weather forecasts back in the 1970s -- it was almost as automatic as going to the Howard Johnson's restaurant chain on long road trips and Child World in Medford for the best toys.

With meteorologists like the old-fashioned, cerebral Don Kent and the energetic, smiling Bruce Schwoegler getting us through the legendary Blizzard of 1978 while giving accurate every day forecasts, our parents felt no real need to tune in anywhere else. Yes, we would occasionally watch Bob Copeland and Bob Ryan on WHDH and starting in 1972, WCVB Channel 5 -- tremendous weathermen, also -- but Channel 4 won the Nielsen ratings in our home.

Thinking back on meteorologists way back when, however, WNAC Channel 7 (which became WNEV in the late 70s) wasn't too shabby, either, and  in fact, looks better now than it did then. Harvey Leonard, with a full head of hair, started his career on Channel 7 in 1977. He was every bit as thorough then as he is now as chief meteorologist on WCVB, Channel 5. From 1971 to 1979,  Fred Ward, a PhD and MIT grad, brought a more mature, formal and somewhat dry approach to weather forecasting on television, although he was capable of fun moments like posting the word "COLLLDD!" on the weather map to emphasis the low temperatures. The late Stuart Saroka might have come across as sort of a modified hippie and on-air goofball, but make no mistake about it: he knew how to get a forecast right.

Why do the former Channel 7 meteorologists look better now than they did back in the 1970s? Well, it really had nothing to do with the meteorologists. Channels 4 and 5 offered more established news anchor, sports and reporting staffs along with high ratings and little turnover, so the whole packages led to more trust in who we were watching for the news. Yes, Channel 7 had some incredibly talented journalists like Chuck Scarborough, who went onto fame as a New York City and national anchor and reporter but the station just couldn't get any momentum going -- at least until the late 1970s when anchors Tom Ellis and Robin Young brought a viable alternative to TV news watching in Boston. For the record, WNAC did have high rankings briefly in the mid-70s when the Candlepins for Cash bowling show led into the 6 p.m. news, but they just couldn't sustain that energy.

So, you see, the Channel 7 meteorologists were ultimately fine weathermen that did their jobs as well as any in the area, but were associated with a less popular television station. Looking back on it, though, I wish I had given those meteorologists more of a chance. One wishes the forecast for a consistent Channel 7 newscast in the 1970s was as rock solid as the forecasts given by its meteorologists!

Dignitary Sighting at the Osaka Japanese Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass.

Many years ago, my dad took a lunch break with some teacher friends at Osaka Japanese restaurant on Concord Ave. in Cambridge, and came back home with a story that he could virtually call his own.

Just as about he was about to be seated, a man that looked like an older version of Dennis the Menace's father almost ran right into him. It wasn't Dennis the Menace's father, however (fictional character!). It was Henry Kissinger, our 56th United States of America Secretary of State!  He joined my dad and friends for lunch and they shared some delightful, intellectually based conversations.

In my young mind, I was very happy for my dad that he met such an esteemed, accomplished figure, but was also jealous that I wasn't there. At seven years-old, I had learned to memorize every president's name and could recite them, in order, backward and forward. I wanted to show off to Mr. Kissinger this knowledge.  I also wanted to meet a celebrity like him. Heck, my only celebrity interactions, at that point, were with Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Lee Stange and comedian Soupy Sales!

As I matured and started to appreciate Japanese food, I recognized Osaka as a wonderful little Japanese restaurant that prided itself on chef-inspired cuisine, friendly and humble service and a living room-like atmosphere -- too bad it's not around anymore.  It was a bit of a hidden restaurant, so I found it quite interesting that Dr. Kissinger found this place!

Do you have any memories of celebrity/dignitary sightings back in the day? If so please feel free to comment below!

Elsie's Sandwich Shop, Cambridge, Mass.

Our readers greatly miss Elsie's Sandwich Shops that were once located in Cambridge and Falmouth on Cape Cod.

Steve wrote, "The best deli sandwiches around ... I liked them better than Jack and Marion's. Especially "the Fresser's delight."

Evan from London, England, sent us a message stating, "that landmark that marked the beginning of any vacation on the Cape for decades. I still remind my family of how much I miss those turkey sandwiches with the thinnest slices of turkey I have seen anywhere. Melted in your mouth-no chewing required."

Stuart wrote us a while back saying, "Can you add Elsie's in Harvard Square to your list?  I was just back for my 35th Harvard reunion and everyone is still talking about it!"

Stuart, sorry we are a little late with this but we'd be more than honored to mention Elsie's!

Elsie's was simply one of the best sandwich shops ever in this region. I don't know much about the Falmouth location, but can tell you a little about the Cambridge spot by saying this was the place to meet whether you were a student, professor, townie or out-of-towner.  Elsie's trumped other local sandwich shops and certainly offered a superior alternative to college dining hall food. Plus, it was open late at night!

I remember the roast beef sandwiches tasting so much better than any other places -- including those famous places on the North Shore -- and no competitor could match the delicious turkey club. The Fresser's Delight that Steve mentioned consisted of turkey, roast beef, and corned beef on three slices of sissel bread. Elsie's also served a juicy, oversized burger that would give any of those trendy burger chain a good run for the money Yum!

The Cambridge location closed in 1995, staying in business for about 30 years. We miss you, Elsie's!

Old School Burlington Memories on Route 3A

I recently had a chance to drive Route 3A in Burlington, Mass., and, sadly, everything is gone that I remember from growing up there my first seven years, as well as when working in the area early in my career.

Gone are Almy's Department Store, Dale Pharmacy, Gianelli's family restaurant, Barbo's Furniture, Captain Pizza, IGA supermarket, Kemps hamburger stand, the Fish House seafood market and restaurant, Mister Donut and Sun Luck Chinese restaurant.

Most of these businesses were situated in a plaza that, to this, day remains nearly fully occupied. That's a good thing, but I do miss the older stores at the plaza, particularly Dale Pharmacy where my dad and I would walk from our small red ranch home to buy baseball cards and candy bars.

Sweet Ginger Asian restaurant is now located in the former Sun Luck spot and is admittedly a better restaurant than its distant predecessor.  Dunkin' Donuts took over from Mister Donut, the latter which I always liked better. Dale Pharmacy is now an Indian supermarket and looks like a quality business -- nice to see the old tile floors remaining intact there! The Almy's area is now a Shaw's Supermarket.

Old Schoolhouse Ice Cream and Yogurt is one of the current cornerstones of the plaza, serving excellent ice cream, sandwiches and soups. They would have fit in well with the family-oriented mix back in the day -- great to see them thriving in their mix of modern and old-fashioned ice cream parlor ways.

Does anyone remember this older version of Route 3A in Burlington? What are your favorite memories there? What do you like about the new Burlington on Route 3A?


Joan and Ed's Deli, Natick, Mass.

Joan and Ed's Deli in Natick, Mass., always satisfied.

Pretty much everyone loved Joan and Ed's except for a few malcontents including the proverbial whiners complaining about Boston having no delis comparable to New York City,

First located at Shopper's World in Framingham and then at the Sherwood Plaza in Natick, Joan and Ed's represented everything good about dining out: large portions of food, reasonable prices, an upbeat atmosphere, and long-time staff -- including Joan and Ed-- that took every effort to get to know their customers. Joan and Ed's made a fine pastrami sandwich, awesome chicken soup and matzoh ball soups, potato pancakes that would make grandma proud, and desserts out of huge display cases that were not only delicious but huge. I will always remember the Devil Dog cake!

Joan and Ed's also served as a general restaurant, offering excellent chicken, steak and seafood dishes.

Remember the pony-tailed man working the front counter?  He always seemed slightly gruff and intimidating, but ultimately was a very nice person that has a place in our unofficial customer service hall of fame. The guy never made a mistake.

Joan and Ed's sadly closed in 2010. The location is now occupied by Zaftig's Deli, another fine deli that has a great local reputation. I would still take Joan and Ed's, though. In its 33 years, Joan and Ed's hit a home run with virtually everything they did -- what a great run! We miss it very much, though.

Remember Rick's Cafe, Newton, Mass.,Located in a Former Church?

Does anyone remember Rick's Cafe, a Newton, Mass., restaurant that was located in a former church?

Owned by Weylu's -- the huge Chinese restaurant in Saugus, Mass., that is also no longer with us -- Rick's Cafe featured, as expected, a most unusual atmosphere, with dining rooms located on several floors of this tall church. Dimly-lit and quiet, the atmosphere worked as a cozy destination but also somewhat unsettling as many felt a church should not change into a commercial endeavor.

Rick's Cafe gained a lot of attention when open in, as best I remember, the early 1980s, but do a Google search today and nothing comes up. The steak, chicken and seafood offerings were done better at other local restaurants, and the church setting novelty wore off quickly.  Plus the large size of the restaurant demanded crowds to stay financially viable.. As a result, Rick's Cafe was not in it for the long run but, nevertheless, remains a fascinating piece of Boston area restaurant history.

King's Grant Restaurant, Danvers, Mass.: Sunday Morning Brunch, Tudor Dynasty Decor

The King's Grant restaurant at the King's Grant Inn in Danvers, Mass., reigned as one of the best Sunday morning brunch spots in the Boston area.  Not your cookie cutter, sterile function hall destination, the King's Grant restaurant featured a modified 14th Century Tudor Dynasty design. Made sense to me, with the restaurant being located right off the eternally outdated Route 128.

The King's Grant restaurant seemed wonderfully cartoonish with waiters and waitresses with thick Boston accents dressing up in psuedo 14th century apparel over two levels of carpeted dining rooms, and, in the later years, hiring actors and actresses to perform medieval songs and magic tricks for your dining pleasure and entertainment.

The bottom line is that for most of its years in operation, the King's Grant restaurant hired some darn good chefs to create some wonderful breakfast and lunch items. I do wonder, though, if bacon and eggs were a breakfast staple of the 14th century?

The former King's Grant site now houses a biotech company. Alas, much sorrow has been often on the North Shore of Massachusetts since this dining monarchy left, but yet it is well for a man to know both the dining bliss of the past and the high tech of the future. Sorry, thought I'd try out my 14th century dialect there.

Remembering Arlington's Paul Tavilla, the World's Greatest Grape Catcher

The late Paul Tavilla, an Arlington, Mass., native and an owner of the P. Tavilla Company at the New England Produce Center in Chelsea, Mass., gained much attention back in the day as the Guinness Book of World Record's champ for catching grapes in his mouth.

In the early 1980s as a reporter at the Arlington Advocate in Arlington, Mass., I once had the honor of talking with this friendly, funny, caring man. The first topic of conversation centered, of course, on "Grapes thrown by hand and caught in mouth on level ground and high-rise buildings." I was truly impressed by this unusual feat, which led to Mr. Tavilla gaining national attention with guest appearances on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Dinah Shore Show, Geraldo Rivera, Maury Povich and Live with Regis and Katie Lee. More importantly, his unique talent brought many smiles to charity events and hospital visits.

Paul landed in the record books several times including catching a grape in 1979 at ground level from 327 ft., 6 inches at Breeds Hill Rd. in East Boston, Mass., and, at the high rise level in 1988 from 788 ft. at the John Hancock Tower in Boston, Mass.

Mr. Tavilla died on Nov. 6, 2014. He seemed like a very nice man and although I only chatted with him once, I heard from so many "Arlingtonians" about his greatness as a person.  If you have any stories about Mr. Tavilla, please feel free to comment in the box below.

You can also read his fascinating, entertaining Grape Catcher web site for a detailed account of his accomplishments.



Bowens Toyland, Bedford, Mass.

For some reason, kids always seemed to behave at Bowens Toyland in Bedford, Mass.

I never saw anyone break a toy here, talk fresh to their parents or the owners, draw inappropriate things on the Etch A Sketch, send the water powered toy space rocket ship through the ceiling, or create bad words on any of the word-oriented board games.

I think I know why. First, parents, back then, generally had the temerity to say "no" to their kids, as needed, and that Bowens Toyland owners Ruth and John Bowen made everyone feel at home. Unlike the many disinterested, cell phone-addicted chain toy store employees of today, Ruth and John also came across like caring parents, prioritized customer service, spoke softly and thoughtfully, and clearly loved their career business choice. In another words, they were great role models themselves. They also lived in Bedford for a very long time, thus confirming their commitment to the community.

Having stopped playing with toys after graduating college (just kidding), I can't tell you exactly when Bowens closed as I went onto bigger and better things (Radio Shack became my new "toy store"). I do know, however, that Bowens opened in 1955 and stayed in business a very long time.

Bowens Toyland also had the best toy selection of any area toy store -- not the usual junk but a thoughtfully laid out display of popular and hard-to-find toys also an incredible selection of model kits. They sure jam-packed a lot of toys into a modest-sized, unassuming storefront.

Ruth and John are no longer with us. I wish I had a chance to say "Thank-you" to them for all the joyful years they brought us in the form of a toy store. They just don't make toy stores like this as much anymore, as well as store owners with such grace and goodness.


Remembering The Sizzleboard in Boston and the Mean Hippie Waitress

I remember the scene so well at the Sizzleboard in Boston's Kenmore Square. In awe of the selection of sandwiches, we couldn't make up our minds on what to eat.  That brief delay prompted this hippie waitress to yell at us for not moving the line. So much for the summer of love, man!

To her credit, she did apologize and I guess I should have, too, after walking around with one of the worst wiffles ( a buzz cut) in American history. That haircut made Johnny Unitas look like John Stamos.

Looking back at the Sizzleboard now that the emotional scar of a verbal lashing has left 45-plus years later, this was actually an excellent fast food stop -- especially for a ravenous appetite like mine that wanted to eat something before ordering more food at a Fenway Park Boston Red Sox game. The Sizzleboard really knew how to turn out a generously serving in the form of a sandwich without a hint of corporate fast food blandness.

The Sizzleboard definitely had some sizzle, including that waitress that sizzled after our indecisive moment!




Kemps Hamburger Stand in Burlington, Mass.

Before fast food and trendy burger chains took control, places like Kemps in Burlington, Mass., reigned supreme in pleasing those with a love for that all-American favorite, the hamburger.

This colorful, brightly lit 1950s-style hamburger stand brought in crowds that loved the idea of dining on a tasty burger along with fries and a shake for under $1. Located on Route 3A right by the former IGA supermarket that eventually became the former Building 19 discount store, Kemps looked like something out of a Happy Days episode.

While Burlington has just about every store and restaurant one would ever need today, I miss the innocence and simplicity of businesses like Kemps.  Nothing fancy, no gourmet tendencies, but just a place that everyone seemed to enjoy before so many online reviewers spoiled our fun by becoming  critical, cynical and condescending.

Kemps would probably not do well on Yelp today, but who cares? We never asked for much then, and were just grateful for an inexpensive night out amongst good people. Even a six-year-old could see that, like me, in the 1960s!

Does anyone remember Kemps?

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