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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Nantucket Lightship Station


    Lighthouses guide passing vessels from the potentially hazardous shorelines of the world. These stoic giants have been protecting ships for centuries. Many of them are historic attractions, uniquely designed and lending themselves toward spectacular photograph opportunities. Although today the world’s lighthouses sit on exclusively on solid ground there was a long period of time when some sat in the water. These protected passing vessels from sandy shoals that can sneak up on boats and wreak havoc. The beacons that once guarded the shoals were called lightships. Perhaps no lightship station is more well known than the Nantucket. Painted bright red with Nantucket in white on its sides this icon has a history extending for more than a century and a half. Here is its story.

    The first lightship was the Nore constructed in 1732 and situated in the River Thames in England. The first lightship in the United States came in 1820 sitting in the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia to mark the Willoughby Spit. Around Cape Cod and its islands are many dangerous shoals. Though some can be easily navigated one in particular caused the creation of the Cape’s first lightship.

    In the mid-19th century dangerous shoals south and east of the island of Nantucket were cause of much destruction of passing vessels. The route south of the island was important to trans-Atlantic shipping and thus a ‘light boat’ was deemed necessary for the area.

    On May 13, 1854 Samuel Knox, Superintendent of Light Houses and Light Boats, announced the construction of the first light boat station in America. The wooden boat, designated LV-11, was 104-feet long with two yellow masts adorned with day-marks and lanterns for night and inclement weather. The lights could be seen from up to thirteen miles away.

    It cost $13,462 ($416,000 in 2020) and was built in Baltimore, Maryland. The hull of the light boat was red with ‘Nantucket South Shoal’ painted in large white letters on either side. Appropriately it was positioned at the southern end of Nantucket’s New South Shoal giving a wide berth to passing vessels. The water surrounding the shoal could be as shallow as three-feet making a light boat essential.

    The boat was sailed north and moored at its location two miles south of the shoal on June 12, 1854 in 14 fathoms (84 feet) of water. The first ‘keeper’ of the light boat was Captain Samuel Bunker who left his job as keeper of Nantucket’s Sankaty Head Lighthouse. The job of the keeper and crew was basically just to keep the lanterns clean and operational. Thus the crew had a lot of free time and took to weaving baskets to keep from growing bored.

    The tenure of LV-11 was a short one. In January 1855 Capt. Bunker sent some of his crew ashore as they were short on water. A tremendous storm on February 5, 1855 drove the LV-11 of its mooring and sent it drifting away. When the crew that had gone ashore returned to where the LV-11 had been aboard the vessel Nebraska they were shocked to find it missing. Luckily Capt. Bunker sent his wife a letter to let everyone know the ship had crashed ashore on some rocks at the east end of Montauk Point on Long Island approximately one hundred miles west. The light boat was towed into New York and declared a total wreck.

The LV-1 Lightship (Flickr Commons


    The second boat, named LV-1, was built in Kittery, Maine near the end of 1855 at a cost of $30,000 ($896,000 in 2020). It was roughly the same size and decorated the same as the LV-11. The look of the Nantucket Lightship did not change much during the entire century-plus tenure of the station. The new ship was placed in the same spot as the first on January 28, 1856. This vessel had a much longer time in action than the LV-11 though it was not without its own peril.

    Within a few months the new lightship was already having trouble with its moorings due to the rough seas at New South Shoal. During its first decade in service the LV-11 broke from its moorings no less than a dozen times. The longest period was nearly three weeks where the lightship was adrift at sea. Each time it was towed back to New South Shoal, sometimes after needing repairs though.

    A significant change came in October 1891 when the Lighthouse Board designated $70,000 ($2 million in 2020) for a third lightship to be built for New South Shoal. This ship maintained the overall look of the first two, however it had a pair of major upgrades. First it was made of iron, allowing it to be more securely moored at the shoal. Second it came equipped with a steam powered fog whistle, this would make it easier to find if by chance it did break from its moorings. The whistle also sought to curb the number of vessels that would crash into the lightship in foggy conditions, something that happened from time to time. The new ship LV-54 went into service early in 1893.

    In 1896 New South Shoal was renamed Nantucket Shoals which is how it would be known for the next century. By the turn of the 20th century lightship service had peaked in the United States. The highest total in use at one time was in 1909 when there were fifty-six across America.

    At that time there were twelve lightships dotting Cape Cod's coast. Some of the more well known included: Pollock Rip Lightship east of Monomoy Point in Chatham, Handkerchief west of Monomoy in Nantucket Sound, Stonehorse also near Monomoy, and Hen and Chickens at the entrance to Buzzards Bay.

An antique Nantucket Lightship basket c.1900 on sale on eBay for $1,975 (Paul Madden Antiques)


    As the 20th century progressed the era of the lightship winded down. Buoys and fixed towers on the water proved safer for marking travel lanes. It meant that crews no longer had to be exposed on manned lightships anymore. Stonehorse was the last Cape Cod lightship, being officially decommissioned October 5, 1963. The final Nantucket lightships, LV-112 and WLV-612(they would alternate at the site), would remain in action much longer though. In fact upon the retirement of the Columbia River Lightship in Oregon in 1979 Nantucket became the final lightship station in service in the entire country.

A model of the LV-112


    The LV-112 was decommissioned in 1975. At the time of its retirement this vessel been the longest tenured at the Nantucket Shoals station, there for 39 years. The National Park Service declared it an historic landmark in 1989. However after being towed from its spot off the shoals to Straight Wharf on Nantucket it has come close to being scrapped. It has been moved to several ports and been used as a museum and tourist attraction in the decades since.

The LV-112 in 2017 (Beyond My Ken


    The WLV-612 was the last surviving lightship in America, being officially decommissioned in 1983. It was saved from the scrap heap in 2000 when former Massachusetts senator Bill Golden bought the vessel on eBay for $126,100 ($190,000 in 2020). The former lightship was redesigned into a spacious yacht for his family and has remained in his ownership since. In 2020 the WLV-612 is docked in Boston Harbor and is up for sale as of September. The asking price? $4.95 million. The floating home is two levels, six bedrooms, and 4,000 square feet.

    If the asking price is too steep for the lightship the ever-collectible Nantucket Lightship baskets are somewhat more affordable and can be found for sale on eBay as well. There are replicas also that range from about $45 and up.


The WLV-612 real estate listing for those interested: Elliman.com - Nantucket Lightship for Sale

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My first eBook in 10 years, In Their Footsteps, featuring the interesting stories of Cape Cod's history, is on sale at Amazon.com

Friday, September 18, 2020

In My Footsteps: You Don't Get the Time Back

 

There are so many buzzword catchphrases that I could start this off with.


“Never leave things unsaid.”

“Always make time.”

“Tomorrow is never guaranteed.”


    In short, it is always wise to say what is needed, or at the very least give face time to those that matter in your life. I am here to tell you that sometimes those few moments that did not happen, or those few words that were not said, can end up becoming the largest regrets you carry.



    Before I go back three years I first have to go back thirty-six years. In 1984 my family moved into a neighborhood that I would do most of my growing up in. The Cherry Lane neighborhood still to this day holds more memories and means more to my life than any place I’ve known. I spent fourteen years wearing out those streets. Many of those years I spent wearing them out with a kid that I met almost immediately upon getting there.

    Living diagonally across the street from my family was a kid my age named Matt and his family. We got along great from the start. As a pair of seven year old boys we shared interests like bike riding, GI Joe, baseball, and just being outside making a mess of ourselves.

    Matt and I came of age in the mid-1980’s. It was ‘get outside, and don’t come home until the streetlights come on.’ A far cry from 2020. We would take our bikes and ride to the corner store, or play countless games of catch. Matt had a fastball that people twice his age would have killed for. I hated catching for him, it hurt like hell. I even remember getting whacked in the nuts a few times because I wasn’t fast enough. Eventually I asked him to use a tennis ball to throw. We played Farm League baseball together and I remember being so glad I didn’t have to get in the batter’s box against him.

    The two of us became as close as brothers. Of course as all brothers do we would fight, sometimes badly, but eventually we would come back around. My first job I ever had was at his family’s general store stocking shelves at the age of twelve. There were numerous sleepovers, birthday parties, trips to Nickerson State Park, even one where we got lost wandering the roads trying to find our way back to the parking lot. The song that heavily influenced my formative years, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana, I heard it sitting in Matt’s bedroom. He was one of my first true best friends.



    As we entered high school we grew apart, it was just the circumstance and time, like a pair of boats once docked together but the waves slowly pull them out of sight of one another. Years went by, I neither saw nor heard from my old friend. Flash forward to 2016 and a chance meeting.

    Ironically Matt and I would reunite and continue to meet up at a small Stop and Shop not far from where either of us lived. A lot had changed as we chatted as adults. Matt was now married and had recently become a father. He would joke about enjoying the peace and quiet of shopping but was always in a semi-hurry to get back to his family. We would reminisce about those old days while always speaking of today and what the future held for each of us. The meetings were usually brief, 5-10 minutes, yet happened more regularly that I imagined, almost as if we waited to go shopping when we assumed the other would be there.

    Flash forward again to the fall of 2017. My life had begun a downward trajectory. My dream of being a full-time personal trainer and writer was dimming. I had started realizing that the hours needed to succeed working at the gym I was at would never come. Money was growing scarce and my stress level steadily increased. I wondered how long I could keep stubbornly going down this path with my head down. Yet I did not want to admit defeat and have to go back to doing something menial that did not leave me feeling happy. It was at this time that I began to seriously withdraw, wanting only to go home after work, have a few drinks, and wait with baited breath for some good news.

    On one such evening after work I found myself at Stop and Shop. I was looking to grab whatever I needed quickly and get out of there. I looked up and spotted Matt with his cart. He did not see me though and rather than circle around to find him and chat like we had done many times before I stayed back and let him get out of sight, avoiding the conversation because mentally I was not feeling it. As I watched him vanish around a corner I never once thought it would be the last time I saw him.

    Only a few days later one of my sisters texted me while I was working the front desk at the gym. She asked if something had happened to Matt. It was then that I saw the Facebook posts. It was his wife’s post on his page that brought the truth crashing down on me.  Matt was gone.  Ironically I had seen Matt’s post the night before about visiting a casino and I had thought about commenting, making a joke about winning big, but I didn’t.  Just like that he was gone.

    It is hard to process a life changing moment while trying to keep a happy face on at work. It was like the feeling inside of falling down an elevator shaft nonstop. Almost immediately the regret over a pair of missed connections in the previous few days overtook me. It is a feeling that is virtually impossible to shake, in some ways I still haven’t. You always figure that if you don’t talk with someone that there will be a next time. Then where there isn’t it is surreal. I collected hundreds of memories with Matt and now that’s all they are is memories.

    More than 2 ½ years have passed now. I wish I could say that I now take full advantage of the time I have with people I care about. I am better but still not great. The loss of one of my oldest friends definitely changed me. It’s like a rolling cycle of depression, alcohol, recognition, dusting myself off, and trying to make a new start. I have also begun to realize it’s all part of being human. It’s not being scared of being flawed, of feeling difficult things in however you have to in order to push forward.

    This was never something I wanted to write or share. This piece has been in the back of my mind for a few years. I feel it necessary to unburden myself of some guilt.  Maybe others who have lost someone close to them without getting that last chance to speak with them, or worse having the chance but not taking advantage of it, will be able to relate. I miss my old friend and I am sorry to him that I missed out on our last meeting. Someday we will meet again and this time I'll be glad to catch a real baseball from you.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bill Cox's Sea Grill

    Finding success in business once is difficult enough. Finding success twice? That is a rarity. William Cox found success at the turn of the 20th century in the hospitality business, retired, and came back to find more success in a different but similar way. This is the story of Mr. Cox, his inn, and his sea grill.

    William E. Cox was born in Boston in 1883 and schooled in Whitman. He made his way to Cape Cod in 1909 and made an impact very early in his tenure. Cox began by taking over the restaurant owned by Charles Baker in September 1911. It was located next door to Louis Arenovski’s popular American Clothing House at the east end of Main Street in Hyannis. Early in 1912, after several months running the restaurant, Cox bought the building owned by Able D. Makepeace located in the same general area. The building had been recently known as the Wyman House and before that the First National Bank. In June 1912 it was announced that the building at 209 Main Street would henceforth be known as the Hyannis Inn.

    Cox’s inn was a success. Its white exterior and sign adorning a majestic elm tree enticed visitors to stop in. He did not rest on his laurels though, going through a few rounds of extensive improvements. These included adding a piazza which later became a sunroom and also beginning work on a three-story addition that would add eighteen rooms to the ten that already existed.

    A terrible fire in January 1914 destroyed much of the rear of the hotel at a loss of $4,000 ($105,000 in 2020). Despite this fire the Hyannis Inn recovered and thrived. As the 1920’s began Bill Cox made two land purchases to aid in the expansion of the hotel. In March 1921 he bought the land behind the hotel that had been owned by L.P. Wilson. This was followed up by purchasing land abutting the hotel owned by Mary Cash in June 1922.

    In February 1926 Cox cashed in his chips with the Hyannis Inn. He sold the property to Paul Wadleigh and James Goss of Swampscott for 100,000 ($1.46 million in 2020) and looked forward to taking an early retirement at the young age of 43. His retirement kicked off in the spring of 1927 by entering the poultry business after moving his family to Eastham. Ironically diagonally across the street from Cox’s new venture another poultry business sprung up at the same time. Run by retired Purdue University teacher Richard Kent his business took off more than Cox’s and it is unknown if that drove the next chapter of his life.

    Perhaps due to his poultry competition, or perhaps due to a desire to get back into a familiar routine Bill Cox decided to come out of retirement in 1932. Early that year Cox purchased a piece of property a stone’s throw from the water on Bayview Street in an area known as Hyannis Park, though it was technically in West Yarmouth. Construction began on a restaurant hearkening back to his roots when he first got to Cape Cod over twenty years earlier.

    Bill Cox’s Sea Grill opened in time for the summer of 1932. With seafood as the specialty and a promise that customers could ‘Eat at the Seashore,’ Cox’s new restaurant opened a success. The prosperity of the new establishment was partly from the food served as Cox used Cape Cod scallops and his highly popular broiled lobster. However his previous successes on the Cape aided the new Sea Grill as well; locals were already quite familiar with William Cox.

Bill Cox's Sea Grill on Bayview Street


    Prohibition in the United States was repealed with the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933. Bill Cox’s Sea Grill procured a valuable liquor license soon after they were made available. The seasonal establishment began staying open later into the fall and by 1940 it was widely seen as one of, if not the, most popular restaurants on all of Cape Cod. Cox, the public figure, brought in the older crowd familiar with him from his previous endeavors while Cox, the restaurant, made regulars out of the younger generation as well. William Cox, who had found success and retired young, had found success again.

    This time though Cox stayed at the helm of his popular eatery on Bayview Street. As the 1940’s passed on William Cox became something of an icon on Cape Cod, having a longer tenure in successful hospitality than nearly all others. His last season in charge of his Sea Grill was 1958. Cox died of a heart attack on October 1, 1958 at the age of 75. His restaurant was in its final weeks of the season when it lost its creator. His wife and three children finished out the season.

    Bill Cox’s Sea Grill soldiered on for a few more seasons. In 1962 the restaurant was bought by a group including Harold Hayes, Albert Webb, and Angelo Lanza. They renamed it Harborside and the new eatery featured a seafood buffet displayed on a 14-foot dory. The group’s other major cause was building a motel on land adjacent to the restaurant. That was denied by the town and by 1968 the restaurant had been sold and renamed The Captain’s Chair. It remained a popular establishment until closing in January 1996. The building was torn down after sitting vacant for several years, ultimately being replaced by a waterfront duplex.


The site of the former Sea Grill on the left today, 132 Bayview Street (Google Maps)

    William Cox found success twice in the first half of the 20th century. From hotel manager to restaurateur he amassed a loyal group of regular customers and garnered a reputation as a friendly and beloved figure on Cape Cod. His Hyannis Inn brought year-round lodging to the Mid-Cape while later on Cox’s Sea Grill gave countless customers delicious food with a waterfront view. In a business like hospitality where success can be fleeting William Cox had a staying power that few can claim. His contributions to Cape Cod speak for themselves.

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My first eBook in 10 years, In Their Footsteps, featuring the interesting stories of Cape Cod's history, is on sale at Amazon.com


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Friday, September 11, 2020

In My Footsteps: September 11, 2001 - I Remember

      I remember where I was on Tuesday morning September 11, 2001.  I remember being in the midst of writing a mundane email to my friend Barry.  I remember I was going to tell him I was going to visit Nickerson State Park in Brewster on my day off.  It all seems so small but I remember, I wish I had kept writing that email and sent it instead of turning off the computer.

 
     I remember my mother's frantic screams when she heard the first radio reports in her car.  I remember her yelling into the house for us to put on the television.  I remember sitting on the couch and watching as the towers fell.  I remember the memories of visiting the Twin Towers when I was in 7th Grade all came flooding back.  I never visited the top but I remember the enormity of the buildings from the outside and from the lobby.  I remember a surreal feeling knowing they were now only a memory.  It was like I was floating, or falling dow
n an elevator shaft.  I remember having that feeling for the next few days. 

     I remember my sister Kate, pregnant with my niece Emma (now 18), frantically calling my brother-in-law Peter out on a job landscaping, making sure he was alright, and making sure to let him know that the world as we knew it was coming to an end.  I remember my niece Kaleigh, all of 2 and a half years old(now 21), staring at us with a mix of concern and curiosity at what was on the television that was causing all of our fear and angst.  I remember not feeling tired though my heart ached for the thousands of people in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania affected directly by the attacks. 

     I remember wanting to close my eyes as if it might make it all disappear, but then I remember fearing that I'd reopen them and another plane might be hurtling through the sky toward a populated area.  I remember staring outside at the beautiful late summer day in front of me and contrasting it with the scene of utter horror on the television.  I remember feeling detached and attached to the situation at the same time.

 
     I remember not feeling hunger but I still felt the need to venture out to make certain that my world close by was still standing.  I remember driving around town where everything in my little corner of the world looked the same yet I knew everything was different.  I remember feeling so small, but then feeling so much pride and love for the firefighters and police that were walking into the battle zone when everyone else was running away.  I remember sitting frozen still on the couch for fourteen hours watching, hoping in vain that there would be a disclaimer on the screen that said it was all a hoax, like War of the Worlds on the radio. 
     I remember the next morning at work a
t The Marshside.  I remember standing on the deck with Maui who I had known for 8 years at that point.  I remember still having that feeling of falling as we spoke.  I remember the deep blue sky untouched by the gentle exhaust of aircraft.  I also remember the silence, the overwhelming deafening silence that surrounded those days.  I remember the names coming out over the next few days.  I remember the photos, the interviews, the magazines, the newspapers; I still have them so I will always remember.  I remember attending a candlelight vigil and meeting a few people that had come from Ground Zero and had helped in the massive recovery effort.  I remember each anniversary of the day that changed our world. 


     Please take a moment, even if you knew nobody involved, or have never even been to New York, to remember what happened on 9/11.  We are all part of one family, the human family, always remember that.  Peace and love.



Wednesday, September 9, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bill and Thelma's Restaurant

    If you were a teenager in the Mid-Cape area in the 1950’s – 1970’s chances were that you spent a good amount of time at Bill and Thelma’s. If you were an adult in the Mid-Cape area in the 1950’s – 1970’s chances were that you spent a good amount of time at Bill and Thelma’s. In fact if you lived in the Mid-Cape area at all during the two decades plus that it was open the chances are that you spent some time at this wildly popular restaurant and hot spot.

    Bill Maud began his restaurant venture after World War II. After returning from California where he worked on airplanes Maud worked at Carl’s Sandwich Shop in West Yarmouth. In 1948 Bill worked at a spot called the West Yarmouth Fish Shanty. The next year he bought the building from its owner Pat Kelly. Bill would incorporate his wife Thelma into the equation and Bill and Thelma’s Restaurant was born.

    With Bill as the chef and Thelma as hostess they would bring in a staff of which many would stay as crew for nearly the entire duration of the restaurant’s existence. Bill and Thelma’s would wow customers with their fish and chips and onion rings in addition to the famed fried clams. They would keep things simple with items like hamburgers, hot dogs and beans, macaroni and cheese, and other fresh comfort foods. The couple also made it a point to position their establishment as a family restaurant where parents and children alike could come for lunch or dinner and find something they enjoyed for a reasonable price. Bill Maud would make their place a hot spot firstly by creating the 99-cent dinner. This deal would include everything from the entrĂ©e to the dessert and would become a staple of what made Bill and Thelma’s a destination for many years.

    The establishment’s popularity would grow during its run near Mill Hill. In 1958 it was enlarged to include more booths and a horseshoe-shaped food bar. Eventually in 1961 the entire original building was torn down and replaced with a larger more accommodating edifice. It was pure Cape Cod throughout the walls of Bill and Thelma’s with neutral colors and hardwood being matched by netting hanging from the ceiling filled with seafaring creatures like crabs and starfish. The seemingly cluttered ceiling above contrasted the overall cleanliness of the restaurant; Bill Maud was a stickler for a spotless dining area and kitchen.

Bill and Thelma's 



    Even with the expansion there would routinely be lines out the door of people wanting to get their fill at this spot. If the 99-cent dinner didn’t bring people in perhaps being serenaded on the organ by Mr. Maud himself would do it. Bill regularly played the organ while loyal customers and friends would come in, grab a cocktail, and sing along to some of the standards of the day. Bill loved the organ so much that the local Cape Cod Organ Society would hold its monthly meetings at his place. During one meeting in 1966 Marie Marcus, Cape Cod First Lady of Jazz played piano while John Chapman played the organ. Those meetings were more of a social hour than a serious discussion.

Bill and Thelma’s was the place to be as a teenager in the 1950’s – 1970’s. It would be filled with students from nearby Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School after sporting events and dances commiserating in the booths and at the counter. Things could get tense however if students from rival Barnstable High School showed up, which they sometimes did after defeating Dennis-Yarmouth in a sporting event. However it was nothing that a frappe and some onion rings could not solve.

Adjacent to the main dining room was the Jolly Tar Lounge where the adults who came without kids could congregate. It was here that the cocktails were served and various professional sporting events would be watched on television. For all of the effort to make Bill and Thelma’s a family restaurant there was still a desire to have a spot just for the adults. Bill Maud was a people-pleaser and a beloved figure in the community. He was known to have once created a skating rink on a neighboring cranberry bog for the children using only his Jeep and a plow. Things like that, the 99-cent dinners, and accommodating many high-schoolers in the evenings to keep them out of trouble made Bill and Thelma Maud pillars of the community.

The 99-cent dinners were kept up as long as it was feasibly possible by Bill Maud. Even after that would not work he tried $1.99-dinners for a time. However as time went on it no longer was possible to keep those deals up. By then though it was nearing the end. Business slowed down as the 1970’s were nearing the end.

(Above is the former Bill and Thelma's as it appeared in 2019, Google Maps)

In 1975 Bill Maud sold his restaurant. It became known as The Dunes at first but the name was changed to Casa Mia in 1978. It was the sister restaurant to another Casa Mia located in Dennis Port. Eventually it would become The Dunes again in 1993 before closing in 1995.

Bill and Thelma initially retired down to Florida ending nearly three decades in business. Eventually though the couple returned to Cape Cod. Thelma passed first in 1988 at the age of 75, Bill followed in 2004 at age 90. Even more than forty years after closing there are many who grew up in the Mid-Cape area who fondly reminisce about their times at Bill and Thelma’s.

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My first eBook in 10 years, In Their Footsteps, featuring the interesting stories of Cape Cod's history, is on sale at Amazon.com






Wednesday, September 2, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bradlees

 

    In the 21st century the big-box stores rule business. Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Best Buy, Kohl’s and more have become the norm even in small town America. Long gone are the days of the smaller mom-and-pop stores being plentiful. More so than that, gone are the original generation of the big box department stores that began springing up in America during the early to mid 20th century. Places like Woolworth, Jordan Marsh, Sears, and others have faded into the past. In the same vein as stores like Ocean State Job Lot, K-Mart, and other regional discount department stores like Caldor and Ames, there was another that once dominated the Northeast and Cape Cod. It was a place where many people from my generation and the surrounding years either shopped or worked. Bradlees was its name and this is its story.

    The origins of Bradlees goes back to the late 1950’s. Three Connecticut businessmen, Morris Leff, Edward Kuzon, and Isadore Berson met at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, CT just outside of Hartford to discuss the next step in the evolution of discount stores like the old Five and Ten’s. Due to the location of where the initial meeting took place the men decided to name their new venture Bradlees.

    The first of the new Bradlees department stores was located in New London, Connecticut. It opened its doors on March 14, 1958. Bradlees was labeled as a modern self-service department store. It advertised first quality good and nationally advertised merchandise. Many of the stores would have snack bars. The concept was a success and within a few years subsequent Bradlees had been opened in Connecticut in Milford, Derby, Hamden, and Bristol, along with West Springfield, Massachusetts. The burgeoning success of the department store chain caught the eye of another up and coming business, Stop & Shop.

The original Bradlees in New London, CT


    In May 1961 the future grocery store giant purchased Bradlees from Leff, Kuzon, and Berson. The two stores would be forever linked after this purchase. Four more Bradlees were opened within a year. By this time the department store began eyeballing Cape Cod as a future home. In 1965 Dennis Port was chosen as the location for the first Bradlees on Cape Cod. It was to be located in the same general parking area as a Stop & Shop where Rt. 28 and Upper County Road met. The new store created 125 jobs and was an impressive 36,000-square-feet in size. This would be the 31st Bradlees store in the chain.

    On August 9, 1965 Bradlees in Dennis Port had its grand opening. A specially made ribbon of cranberries was cut and excited customers passed through the doors for the first time. Inside there were free balloons for children, free rain hats for adults, and a giveaway of a seven-day all expenses paid vacation in Florida. Having Stop & Shop as its owner certainly helped Bradlees gain a foothold in the department store business. By 1968 there were 52 Bradlees stores that generated an annual revenue of $139 million ($1 billion in 2020).

    Subsequent Cape Cod Bradlees’ opened in Falmouth in May 1966, in South Yarmouth in April 1972, and eventually a fourth store in Orleans and a fifth in Hyannis. Although Stop & Shop was the boss during the 1970’s it became obvious that Bradlees was the one running the show. The supermarket’s profits began to slide during the early 1970’s while Bradlees grew, opening stores in New Jersey. It was during the 1970’s that people were introduced to Mrs. B, the Bradlees ‘mascot’ of sorts. Actress Cynthia Harris would play the smart shopper in Bradlees ads for nearly two decades.

A typical Bradlees storefront at the turn of the 21st century.


    Bradlees upgraded and improved their stores later in the 70’s and early 1980’s. They began to focus more on hardware and home goods while also creating a smaller group of discount stores dealing in women’s sportswear. In 1979 sales reached $634 million ($2.2 billion in 2020). It appeared as though there was no stopping Bradlees from becoming an icon of American shopping.

    In 1982 Bradlees stores made up 78% of the Stop & Shop corporation’s total profits. However around this time alternatives began to spring up. Walmart and K-Mart began to take a bite out of the discount retail pie. Bradlees though continued to expand in an attempt to outrun its new competitors. During the mid-1980’s the company headed south into Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Bradlees peaked at nearly 170 stores. The costs of opening these new stores coupled with the expanded impact of Walmart, K-Mart, and Target among others began to shrink Bradlees’ profits.

    1986 proved to be the apex of the Bradlees empire. It saw sales of $1.9 billion ($4.4 billion in 2020) despite the removal of its then-president Harry Kohn Jr. by the Stop & Shop corporation. It was during this year that a new, larger Super Stop & Shop and Bradlees was built on Rt. 132 in Hyannis. This resulted in the road needing to be widened.


    The trouble began in 1988 when Stop & Shop acquired massive debt as it arranged a buyout among shareholders to become a privately held company. This forced Bradlees to step back from its attempts at expansion, eventually selling off the leases to the 37 stores they had opened in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina. Several under-performing stores would be jettisoned.

    On Cape Cod the first casualty was the Bradlees in South Yarmouth on Long Pond Drive. It closed early in 1988 with Stop & Shop moving its store into the former Bradlees. Rumors persisted soon after that a Lechmere retail store would move into the plaza. That was not to be. In fact Lechmere would go out of business before Bradlees.

    With Bradlees streamlining operations it looked to rebound in the 1990’s. This included the end of the tenure of Mrs. B in the store’s television commercials. Profits began to slowly rebound and in 1992 Bradlees became its own company, breaking away from Stop & Shop, and even being publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. This was followed up by a six-floor Manhattan location, the largest Bradlees yet.

    The company ran into financial trouble again though without Stop & Shop as its parent-company. During this time Walmart and Target grew into the leaders in retail. In June 1995 Bradlees filed for bankruptcy. More stores were closed in 1996, some being converted to Ames. They emerged from bankruptcy with 105 stores and nearly 10,000 employees. In 1999 a brief resurgence occurred as rival store Caldor closed down. However a second bout of bankruptcy in 2000 proved to be the death knell.

    Slowly the stores began to close. It was ironic that Bradlees was replaced by the even larger fish in the big pond. The Hyannis store became Home Depot. The Falmouth location became Walmart. The final Cape Cod location to close, and one of the last in the chain in general was the Dennis Port store. It closed in March 2001 and was eventually replaced by Ocean State Job Lot.

    It began as an idea to revolutionize retail shopping and in the end Bradlees became a casualty of the next wave of that same revolution. Though it was stopped short in its quest to become an American institution it did succeed in becoming an icon of New England. Bradlees was a cherished memory for many on Cape Cod for more than 30 years. In between the Five and Ten stores of the early 20th century and the behemoths like Walmart and Target of today there was Bradlees, a store that took the baton from the old, carried it for a while, and eventually passed it ahead to the new.

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My first eBook in 10 years, In Their Footsteps, featuring the interesting stories of Cape Cod's history, is on sale at Amazon.com




Thursday, August 27, 2020

In My Footsteps: 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' Changes Everything

     Life is just a series of moments and memories. Some of these are random, some correspond to something beautiful, tragic, happy, or sad. For everyone though there are the moments/memories that shape the person you became. These are the types of moments that are burned into your mind. You can remember where you were, who you were with, and other minuscule details surrounding that point in time.

     One such moment for me happened 29 years ago this September. Music has the strength to create powerful memories. It is quite literally the soundtrack to one’s life. Never before and never since had music shifted the course of my life in the way it did in September 1991. I was in 7th grade and 13 years old.

     In the previous few years a new sound had been bubbling beneath the surface on the West Coast and particularly the city of Seattle, Washington. This was a branch off of the rising alternative music genre. Known as Grunge it was a grittier and far less mainstream sound geared toward the youth of America, particularly Generation-X. Some of the bands that would become staples of the burgeoning Grunge movement had already released music to varying degrees of success. However it was one song that did not bring Grunge to the mainstream but rather brought the mainstream to Grunge.

     It was an evening after school when I first heard the opening riff of a song named Smells Like Teen Spirit. Ironically I knew more of the women’s deodorant in the song’s title than the band that created it, Nirvana. Teen Spirit was originally created by Mennen in the late 1980’s. Legend has it that the title of the song came from ‘Kurt smells like Teen Spirit’ being written on his wall by a member of the band Bikini Kill of which Cobain was dating Tobi Vail.

Nirvana c. 1991 (portalternativo.com)


     Sitting in the basement bedroom of my friend Matt Medeiros we decided to turn on the small alarm clock radio next to his waterbed. This in itself was an anomaly as we either would be outside playing, evening after dark, or if in his room we would be watching TV. The radio dial was already set on local station PIXY 103, which still is on the air today. Within seconds my world changed.

     As luck would have it Smells Like Teen Spirit had just begun. The guitar that came pouring out of the small speaker on the radio was like nothing I had ever heard before. The vocals from Kurt Cobain were so gritty and visceral that my attention was totally diverted from whatever conversation a pair of 13-year old boys had back in 1991. For about 5 minutes my brain was connected to the new raw sound that was piercing my consciousness for the first time. It was one of those moments where after I had walked home the music remained bouncing around my head.

The Nirvana Nevermind album cover.  


     Not too long after that I bought my copy of Nirvana’s landmark album Nevermind. To this day I still have the CD, though in reality it is quite scratched and in a terrible state of disc rot. Kurt Cobain spoke to me in a way unlike any other artist I had listened to up to that point. Before hearing Smells Like Teen Spirit my favorite artists/lyricists were Axl Rose (Guns N Roses), Bono (U2), Michael Jackson, and Chuck D (Public Enemy) among others. Their lives did not match mine really. Kurt Cobain, though 10 years older than me said things that resonated through my obligatory teenage angst.

     Then came the video. The dingy high school auditorium setting along with the throngs of kids headbanging and then smashing up the set seemed to match my internal feelings. It blew up on MTV and made Grunge and Nirvana household names. The slow then fast rhythm, the pounding drums, the slightly anarchist visual of the video. It all combined to make me want to become a singer/songwriter.


     Unfortunately over the years I would discover to great disappointment that I just did not have the musical chops for guitar. I did enjoy the lyric writing which evolved into stories, books, articles, poetry, right up to these words I am currently writing. Though my desire to be a writer stems back to 2nd grade and my teacher Ms. Rodrigues the actual pathway was not laid out and my skills did not begin to be honed until the night in September 1991 when Smells Like Teen Spirit shook my world.

     Kurt Cobain would go on to be one of the biggest influences on my life. It is impressive to say the least for me considering he was only an active musician for less than 3 years after I first was introduced to him. In the future I will definitely dive deeper into Kurt Cobain, Nirvana, and Grunge music in general. For now I wanted to capture that moment when everything that came after was initially conceived.

     To put a little bow on this to truly explain the magnitude of this moment for me and people from my generation here are a few facts. The Nevermind album was released on September 24, 1991. It only debuted at #144 on the Billboard charts, selling a measly 6,000 copies. On January 11, 1992 it dethroned Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album as #1 in the United States. It was a symbolic passing of the torch in music. By this time Nevermind was selling upwards of 300,000 copies per week. As of 2020 it has sold over 30 million copies worldwide according to Billboard. The video for Smells Like Teen Spirit has over 1.1 billion YouTube views as of 2020. It really became a seminal moment in the lives of a lot of people my age.

     The song also made the deodorant a massive hit. For a time it was Mennen’s best-selling product. For those wondering, Teen Spirit the deodorant is technically still available. Today though it goes by Teen Spirit by Lady Speed Stick.


Sources:

9 Chart Facts About 'Nevermind' - Billboard.com

10 Things You Didn't Know About Nirvana's 'Nevermind' - Rolling Stone.com

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My first eBook in 10 years, In Their Footsteps, featuring the interesting stories of Cape Cod's history, is on sale at Amazon.com


View my previous blog posts: In My Footsteps: The Dawning of Social Media

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Hill's Dining Room

Photo Prints available here: Smug Mug.com

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher Setterlund.com