If you walked into a neighborhood grocery/deli and found that the managers on duty are so young, they can barely see over the counter, yet they use professional meat slicing machines, whip up custom frappes and drinks using a soda fountain, cook hamburgers, add up grocery orders manually and actually issue the correct change* — you’d probably find yourself pretty impressed. But you’d probably still call the police.
Yet this was daily life in 1950s Burlington, at Bob Carpenter’s store, dubbed Village Grocery. His children ran the place for a few hours every afternoon after school, while he took his daily break at the family’s Dearborn Road home, behind the fire station near the common. An adolescent using a professional meat slicer? All in a day’s work for the Carpenter kids. “Hey, none of us ever got cut,” says Dorothy (Carpenter) McLeod, who now lives in Woburn. The hardest part of running the store was scooping the rock-hard ice cream and stuffing it into cones, she says.
Of the six Carpenter children, Dorothy, Bob and Marian were the most frequently-seen faces behind the counter — assuming you were tall enough to see them.
The store operated from around 1947 to 1961. It was pushed aside when the big-box grocery chain called IGA (Independent Grocers Alliance) came to Cambridge St. on the property later occupied by Building 19 ½.
Carpenter’s store is now Amari Prom & Bridal, near AJ Rose Carpets & Flooring, hardly a hub for Burlington youth. But in the 1950s, it was the coolest place in the center of town. “It was kind of a hangout,” says Dorothy.
It was respected, even revered. How so? One Sunday, when the store was closed, a neighborhood child found the front door ajar. He went into the store and used his one nickel to call Bob Carpenter and tell him about the door. Mr. Carpenter thanked him and explained how to lock the door on the way out. “Imagine any of that happening nowadays?” asks Dorothy.
If you went to school in Burlington in the 1950s, you might have enjoyed a few questionable snow cancellation days. Bob Carpenter ran the town’s bus service, so he was among the officials with the power to cancel. With six children pushing for a day off, well, that’s a powerful lobby.
*Did she always issue correct change? “Well, either I screwed them or they screwed me,” says Dorothy. “But nobody ever came back to complain, so I must have been pretty close.”