Back in the day, New Bedford – like many other older cities – boasted a plethora of corner stores and markets. Places where you could actually buy real food that wasn’t marinated in high fructose corn syrup. Sadly, most of them are gone. Some have been replaced by ‘convenience’ stores – which mostly seem dedicated to selling cigarettes and lottery tickets alongside packaged food. But, a few of them aim higher and help anchor city neighborhoods.
The former corner store pictured in the photo above is at Austin and Cedar Streets and no doubt had many names over the years. Now, it’s called Cedar Convenience. Beyond bread and milk, it’s also a UPS drop point, so you’re packages don’t have to sit on your porch all day if the brown truck pulls up when you’re at work.
It’s been a neighborhood asset for decades. I remember it as Violet’s. However, an old gentleman named George – Violet’s husband – was most often behind the counter and rang up all the purchases. So, the store’s common name in the neighborhood was ‘Georgies’.
George thought every kid who came into the store was stealing from him. And, being punks, we all most often were – when we had the opportunity to do so. Just little things like actual penny candy. Sometimes he would make you turn out your pockets before you left.
Coffee, Ma’s Donuts and Comic Books
Georgies also served coffee and ice cream and had a usual crowd at the stand-up counter every day. Donuts were brought in from Ma’s on the weekends. The store even had a toy selection – behind the counter, secure from 10-year-old pirates. Most of what Georgies had by way of toys was crummy, as we kids termed the inventory. Another store down Austin Street had better toys, but as it was two blocks away it was technically out of the neighborhood. We really didn’t go there much.
Almost all of these types of corner stores are gone – along with their well-off cousins, the family pharmacy. In fact, the neighborhood drug store down Cedar Street from Georgies was indeed called Family Pharmacy. It was a great spot because it carried comic-books. Georgies never did; George probably thought the kids would just rip them off.
Cumberland Farms or bust
The demise of so many corner stores and drug stores that served as community hubs isn’t unique to New Bedford; the rise of first the supermarket and then the global supply chain which feeds Wal Mart killed most of them off everywhere. And Rite-Aid, Walgreens et al basically obliterated the local pharmacy business.
Some of the corner stores were replaced by much bigger 7-Elevens, Xtra Marts and Petro Marts. Most are awful; Cumberland Farms is probably the best of this new breed of variety store. Nothing beats the charm of the true corner store, though, usually owned by someone who lived on the same block as you or at the very least the next block over.
Lucky 7 Branding
Thankfully, a few genuine corner stores remain and their owners try to do a better job of stocking their shelves. About two blocks from where Georgies used to be, a nice family from India runs a Lucky 7 – which is becoming a chain store of its own. They own and/or operate a few other stores around the city.
In a nice bit of synergy, the Lucky 7 at Durfee and Mt. Pleasant Streets is joined on the corner by the New Bedford Fire Department’s Station 7 and Station 7 Motors.
They are branding themselves for a global audience.
Take that, 7-Eleven.