Louie, Downtown & COVID

Fiske’s: Shop Local

Fiske’s has been located in this block since 1863 

Fiske’s in 1966, when I first visited, was very different from today. It was dark, packed with stuff that hadn’t seen daylight since WWII; newspapers were stacked everywhere; kids’ bicycles lined up outside as their owners poked through penny candy while they waited for the newspapers they were paid to deliver; earmuffs, soap savers, lots and lots of cards…so much stuff…and its crusty owner.

Then came Lou. Lou Paltrineri was the father of current owner John.

The store was still crowded in half the space it has now – not light and bright as it is today. There was still enough merchandise to fill a small box store, and it was so packed that 2020 social distancing would have been impossible. The aisles were a maze where a visitor might arrive at a dead end or maybe he’d find what he was looking for…or more likely some surprise.

The Spirit of Lou…

Lou changed the spirit – the ambiance, (Lou would roll his eyes at my word choice there.) Louie was such a special, endearing, lovable, fun and funny man that we held a town wide celebration honoring him and his wife.

Treva and Lou – 1985 – Goodwill Park where 1,000 people gathered to honor him.

When he began to work at Fiske’s, Lou and his family lived in Wellesley. Eventually, he bought the store and the family moved here. Lou became a fixture of town. He was, above all else, a family man, adored his wife and six kids and was a devout Catholic. He had been a prisoner of war in Germany, and I feel sure that his faith and love of family carried him through that ordeal. But he was not about the gloom. Never.

He was just an upbeat guy…and a good merchandiser. He knew that a static inventory was not going to serve the needs and wants of his customers as Holliston grew. There would be no need for soap savers and more need for school supplies. He decided to rent the space occupied by Aubuchon Hardware (in the photo above, it’s to the left of Fiske’s.) When I opened The Plant Place around the corner (the bar area of Bar Athena), he became my patron saint of retailing.

Always the Businessman…

I remember being hurt when Louie started to sell baskets, because I carried baskets. But we talked about it. He was easy to talk to. He explained that there was a reciprocal benefit to this. It was not competition or personal. In today’s parlance, we were a “cluster.” He’d sell a basket and send the customer to me for a plant. Or if a customer didn’t find a basket in my selection, I could send her to Fiske’s. And he demonstrated that baskets were for much more than plants.

Then I taught him how to put the center loop in the big bows for Christmas wreaths. Every holiday we would joke about our shared experiences and lament our sore fingers from making those bows. And thank each other…

John and Carol…

Today’s inventory and store design are very different because Lou’s son, John and his wife, Carol know that they must keep pace with the times. They need to change but still hang onto their history, their local passion and loyal customers. John entertains kids with stories of the days when Annie Fiske owned the store (even before my time) and saved the day in a robbery. There are bullet holes in the ceiling to prove it (actually rust holes in the 110 year old tin ceiling.)

This week I told John Paltrineri (photo below) that I bought my first earmuffs at Fiske’s in the 60s – just a plastic headband that coiled up to fit in my pocket then expanded over my head. They are hard to find in stores today, but John and Carol are keeping up with the times by carrying designer headbands that are used to cover the ears, too. Same function, different day, different design…but always trying to stay one step ahead of the next wave. Like Beanie Babies, and slime and Fidget Widgets…and whatever today’s child delight is.

Staying current in a small town is harder as the pace accelerates but some inventory lingers. Fiske’s remains a part of this town’s fabric of life due to the Paltrineri entrepreneurial spirit – and a long-lived love for this town.

Please share your memories!!

Today…will you help?

Fiske’s and all the independent shop owners and farmers in Holliston need us to shop at their stores or online. More so this year than ever given COVID. One merchant admits that revenues are down 50%. That’s impossible to sustain long term. They are doing everything to keep themselves and shoppers safe.

Local stores create a unique shopping experience, because they are not a patchwork of chain stores. Real estate professionals say that there are two things that home buyers love about Holliston – our downtown with its character and its sense of community and our schools. We spend a lot of money here to keep our schools good. It’s time right now to spend our money here at the businesses that contribute to our tax revenues every year…and to our memories.

Below news clip is from 1985…the tomato weight contest. I submitted my tomato, but Lou disqualified my entry.

His explanation was that my tomato had two stems! I tried to debate, but we all wound up laughing too hard. The “tomato” is Nancy Norris. I wish I had the photo to show the color and detail. Nancy made the costume, and Lou had one of the teenage employees wear it each year thereafter.

Then and now (before COVID), Fiske’s has been a part of the social fabric of town, not just a place to shop. Events like this old contest along with Halloween photos, slime making “classes,” princess parties, and sidewalk art, etc., are about community.

And the value of community is priceless.

Instead of shopping from Amazon, box stores and chains, please support our small businesses. They need us – we need them. There will not be a Holiday Stroll this year, but the businesses will take orders, deliver to curb or home. They are limiting the numbers of people in stores and doing whatever they can to keep everyone safe. You can get gift certificates from some websites or call and arrange for them.

A few downtown shops actually have their inventory online. I know of Kamala Boutique, Candy Cottage, Gracefully Restored, Janine Design.  Let me know if there are others.


20 responses to “Louie, Downtown & COVID”

  1. Janine says:

    Hi Mary! Lovely article. I just adore Fiskes and am so happy to bring it to another generation.
    I have most of my inventory online
    At http://www.janinedesign.com
    I have limited hours due to homeschooling as well as running the store so I’m open 12-4 Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
    Thursdays I’m open a little later 12-6.

  2. Anne Buckley says:

    A lovely read. Thank you for sharing. And yes, local is even more important now than ever. Let’s keep Holliston happy.

  3. Steve Curley says:

    Hi, I discovered Fiske’s on a Saturday night/Sunday morning while in grad school and driving a delivery truck for the old Record-American Sunday Advertiser. It was probably around 1962/63. I’d go to the back entrance and drop off a bunch of bundles of papers for the delivery. I always got a piece of candy as a tip. Maybe from Louie or I don’t know who. In fact if Holliston wasn’t on my list, I wouldn’t have not it either. Who could have figured that in 1968 I would move to town, teach in town and love the town. Great town, great people, great store!!! Long live Fiske’s

  4. Robert Moore says:

    I remember back in about 1983 or 1984 maybe, when Lou had an incredible window display. The front of the shop was adorned with all manner of World War II collectibles, mementos, uniforms, insignia and some weaponry. For a teenaged boy, the display was the coolest thing in town to gaze at—It was living history on display. My friend Dave and I were amazed by the historical items—meant as a remembrance to World War II vets and history buffs alike. However, I was surprised to find out that that very amazing historical display came under fire by the first rash of politically correct folks in Holliston. Although we were teenagers, we were quite angry that Channel 4 (then WBZ—an NBC channel) sent a reporter to Fiske’s to do a story on the “controversial” World War II display. We knew the adults were being jerks. Dave and I stood by the side of the store and gazed angrily at the stupid reporter as he went live from Holliston. Apparently, Lou also displayed enemy uniforms, weapons and insignia. Amazingly, we teenagers took the display to be a history lesson from a very kind and interesting guy—not an anti semitic move—as some sad Yuppie aged sellouts implied subtly and directly. We teenagers immediately came to Lou’s defense. The assumptions were ridiculous and wrong. Sometimes adults should really listen to the children.

    • Wow, Robert, I remember that but had forgotten it. It did cause controversy and the think the TV guy may have been Dan Rea who lived in Sherborn and shopped here regularly. It was certainly the kind of stories that “sold papers.” But it was awful for Lou.

  5. John Paltrineri says:

    Thanks, Mary. This article was wonderful. My Dad is really a tough act to follow but I’m trying my best.

    • Louie was proud of you, and I think you might just work harder! You and Carol have done amazing things keeping the shop “current” without losing its “ambiance.” Holliston holds you in our collective hearts. But I understand – he was a tough act to follow.

  6. John Losch says:

    I opened a clock repair shop in Wellesley. Around the corner from me was “The Wellesley News Co”. Lou Paltrinari was the main personality in that popular store. he was as much liked and respected in Wellesley as he became in Holliston after his move. I was glad to see him as a neighbor again when he came to town. Anyone who dealt with him learned how a proprietor became a part of his community. John learned the lesson well.

  7. Robert Moore says:

    This is a great blog. Keep it rolling.

  8. Thank you Mary.
    So appreciated from all the hardworking self-employed townsfolk!
    Kamala Boutique

  9. Lisa Kocian says:

    Love this, Mary!! Thank you!

  10. Mark Ahronian says:

    Hi Mary, Thank you for your uplifting thoughtful article. I’m sure it’ll help small businesses in our very special town. All my best, Mark Ahronian

  11. Steve Hedrick says:

    Great article, Mary! My late uncle was in the same POW camp with Lou & they knew each other! We came to Holliston in ’83 and are glad that we were able to experience Fiskes & Russell’s & Walter’s & Pot Belly & Norman’s and rural Holliston. Great memories.

  12. Ellen Piontek says:

    I have said to John many times over the years “when you move, I move”.
    I am happy to volunteer to make deliveries for any store in town. I draw the line at making bows. Sorry. You wouldn’t want me to 🙂 Just email me if you need a driver ‘here and there’, or now and then.

  13. Melissa Ford says:

    Great article on Fiskes and the Paltrineri family Mary! Louie and john/carol have brought much to the fabric of Holliston- professionally and personally.
    Shopped at Fiskes yesterday and had a wonderful conversation with John – the personal side of life is the most important …and I found what I needed for my project .

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