Features 2002

Success -- the Cerretani family effort

 ... remembering family roots and Richardson's Market

by John Cerretani

From the original store which Mom opened in their home in Wakefield, the family, working together, was able to progress through two smaller stores to this supermarket on Essex Street. John Cerretani (left) and son-in-law Joe are holding the banner. They are flanked by two Sunshine salesmen.

The success of the store, a family effort, is the culmination of the American Dream which can be traced back to Italy.

My parents were from Italy. Although they lived in the same village in the old country, it took a trip halfway around the world for them to meet. They both ended up in Wakefield, Mass., where Amilcare Cerretani and Uliana Di Rocco courted and married. They became the parents of nine children, seven boys and two girls. I was one of the sons.

My dad was a stone mason, farmer and wore many hats. My Mom opened a small grocery store in the front of our house. To stock the store, she would take the Eastern Mass. Railway into Boston. There she bought fruits, vegetables and dry groceries. At that time everything was sold in bulk, then shipped to the homefront store. Olives, beans, bananas and macaroni were some of the items shipped. Some of the things my Mom used to sell are no longer on the market: Bond and Tip Top Breads, Hathaway, Friend and Cushman Bakery products. Stoddard Pies, fresh Jewish bread from Lawrence, Mass., and Sunkist oranges from California, wrapped in tissue paper, packed in wooden boxes.

We grew up in a neighborhood which was like a league of nations: Italian, Spanish, French, Polish and Jewish. All got along very well and had respect for each other. Because of the Depression, most of the families were on welfare or unemployed. My Mom had quite a credit sheet. As jobs became scarce, my Dad, out of work, decided to open a grocery store on the ground floor of the Knights Of Columbus building in Melrose. Three of my brothers, Bill, Ralph and Charlie helped to run the store. He intended to call the store Cerretani's. On advice of some friends who thought that was not a good idea in a Yankee town like Melrose, he decided to call it Richardson's Market, after the street we lived on in Wakefield. We offered credit and free delivery five days a week. Closed Wednesday afternoon and all day Sunday.

In those days most of the shopping was done locally. One block away on Main Street from Foster to Essex, you could buy anything you needed. On one side was Haslam's Drug store, Melrose Army and Navy store, Jones' Curtain shop, Hopkins' Ice Cream and Candy, Kennedy's Butter and Eggs, Hill's News store, Andrew's Market, W.T.Grant, Woolworth's Five and Ten, Melrose Meat Shop, Sugar and Spice Bakery and Ruderman's Furniture. Across the street, Newhall's Shoe, Lady Mae's, and Clement's Shops, Melrose Trust Co. and Coyle's Hardware.

During the second World War, five of us, Jim, Bill, Ralph, Charlie and I were in the Army. We all came home safe and sound. While we were away, my oldest and youngest brothers, Joe and Dick, along with Dad, ran the store. When Dad retired, I joined my other two brothers in the business. My brother Jim purchased a vacant lot next to the Market and started Richardson's Taxi. In 1954, the K. of C. gave notice that they would be using the whole building. This meant we would have to look for a new location. We did not have to look far. After talking with Jim, we decided to merge.

Four of the brothers, Joe, Jim, Dick and I were now in the business. This involved building a brand new store on Jim's lot. We were able to start almost immediately, and our Dad would be the main force in putting up the building. In whatever free time we had, we would help. In six months we were ready to open. The store was larger so we were able to have a greater variety of merchandise. There were three registers and full-time cashiers. We offered free coffee and doughnuts until 11 a.m. We were beginning to look like a supermarket and were fortunate to have many good local people as employees. To name a few, they were Alma Zins, Eleanor Bickford, Phyllis Russell, William Davison, Alex McKenzie, Steve Kiley, Dick Comeau, Frank Mayo, Peter Garipay and many others.

By 1960, we had outgrown the West Foster Street location. The Finast (First National) Store on Essex Street was for sale. We acquired this property. After renovating and modernizing the building with all brand new equipment, we were ready to open. The grand opening was planned for January 1961. We had quite a snow storm the night before and had to shovel our way into the building. In spite of the weather, the local dignitaries were there to cut the ribbon. Many people were lined up waiting for the store to open. The highlight of the day for us was when we asked Mom and Dad to step outside to see, for the first time in red neon lights, CERRETANI'S. Our parents were overcome with emotion. It was something we will never forget.

The success of the Melrose store gave us the courage to expand to other localities. Within ten years, we opened stores in Revere and Reading. This was something that Mom or we never even dreamed about. We were dedicated and loved the business. In return, the business was good to us.


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