Back in the fall of 2013 we made a video Shep’s Place, a tour of downtown Groton. Those few minutes weren’t enough to delve into the recent history of the town, so in this column I’m following up on an idea from Curt Leroy ’72, who suggested a piece about “all the stores we used to go to.” When you live in a place for a long time, you don’t notice changes to the area as much as you might upon returning after a 20– or 30-year absence, so Curt’s idea struck a chord; I sat down at the computer and came up with a list of over a dozen places that LA folks used to frequent, but that are no more, or at least are changed beyond recognition. Herewith a few reminiscences.
Moison Ace Hardware stands on a lot once occupied by Bruce Pharmacy (an old house) and the Union National Bank of Lowell. LA still had Saturday morning classes when I first came
to Groton, and we used to go down to Bruce’s lunch counter for a doughnut and coffee after the last period. Sadly for us, Hank Brown, the proprietor (father of Randy Brown ’72), tore out the lunch counter and replaced it with merchandise shelves, for the perfectly good reason that it was losing money. So we’d walk all the way down to Dickson’s Drugstore (later the Groton Drug Company, now the Murphy Insurance Agency) and eat at their lunch counter. They had great ham salad sandwiches. That, too, went the way of Bruce’s, for similar reasons.
So where could you go to get something to eat? Back in the day, the pickin’s were kind of slim. If you needed lunch and it wasn’t wintertime, you walked down to Johnson’s, but you were out of luck in the cold weather — they closed up shop and went to Florida. Luckily for the fried-food and ice cream fans among us, they’ve been open year-round for some time now.
For dinner, you could trek to the Bridle and Spur, down beyond the railroad bridge on the right. It was a favorite hangout of LA faculty and a lot of townspeople for years, and it was a sad day when they closed, back in 1998. Across the street you had the Country Kitchen, later Tinker’s Tavern. It was situated on a piece of land that seemed destined to doom to failure any business that last there; the place went through several owners and finally gave up the ghost. Behind the Country Kitchen, on Mill Street, was Kelly’s — “the Bah,” as my kids and their friends still fondly recall it. When I was first in town, they had a kitchen that served up the finest greasy burgers I’ve ever eaten. Then, suddenly, there was no food at Kelly’s; the Board of Health had taken one look into the kitchen and said, “Nevermore!” Alas, the Bah was torn down when the property was developed several years ago.
To return to downtown: Across from Bruce Pharmacy was the post office, which has been the Natural Shop for years now. The handsome gray house between the post office and the Groton Inn was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Light. When they moved away is became Kilbridge’s Antiques for quite a while; it now houses several offices. For a short, delicious time a couple of years ago, the Bliss Bakery occupied half of the first floor.
If you walked down Main Street from Bruce’s, you’d pass the original Moison Hardware, now the Salt and Light Café; then there was a private home which is now the Citizens Bank. On the corner of Station Avenue, just before the town hall, was a scary, falling-down old structure that housed a dry-cleaning establishment. Given the explosive nature of that particular business, I used to hurry past. When it finally went the way of all scary old houses it was replaced by what is now the Bank of America
Just before Groton Drug was a funny little store, sort of an old-fashioned 5 and 10; I never saw anyone go in. Bruno’s Pizza now makes excellent thin-crust pies there. If you kept walking, just before the Groton Market you’d come to two gas stations facing each other on opposite sides of Main Street. Filho’s restaurant was once Johnny’s Texaco, and the dry cleaner on the other side was a Mobil station. Next to the Mobil, of course,
was the Groton Super Duper market, which changed hands and names two or three times until it finally became Donelan’s several years ago. Sadly, by the time you read this they will have closed for good, leaving Groton with only one supermarket, a Shaw’s three or four miles down the road toward Littleton.
You didn’t have to walk all the way to the Super Duper to buy your groceries. If you were in that neck of the woods, though, you could stop in at the Groton Market, which, until sometime in the early 1960s, was a liquor store on the right and a small market on the left, both owned by LA’s then-business manager, Joe Madigan. Joe’s son John, LA ’75, runs the store now. If you didn’t want to schlep that far, you could visit the First National, where GroHo’s and Cumby’s are now located. One of a long-gone chain of New England supermarkets, it closed not long after I got to town, and the space was divided in two.
At the left end of that strip mall was an insurance agency, as you can see in the picture; to the right of the First National were three businesses that have survived until today: the laundry, the florist and the barbershop. The latter was owned by one Bravel Goulart, and you had to make an appointment for a haircut. I was too lazy to do that, so I’d walk down Hollis Street to Dominic, the other barber. Dominic was a nice guy and his haircuts were cheap, but I never managed to leave his shop without at least one little razor nick on my neck. (“Whenever you get a cut, always squeeze!”) Apparently he kept his prices low by not having his razors sharpened. Thankfully, he didn’t give shaves. But if you needed one, he’d hand you an old Sunbeam electric razor and let you shave yourself, right there in front of everyone.
Many other things have changed in the downtown, of course: the firehouse is a restaurant; a new Groton Inn has risen from the ashes; the trains that ran past the end of Station Avenue are long gone. But if you come back to town for the first time in years, you’ll still feel at home. Groton is still Groton, with a thriving downtown and lovely old homes. And now there are lots more places to eat.
Thanks for the idea, Curt.