The John Forbes Family
Julia Forbes (age 86), Maynard Forbes (age 56), and Carolyn Forbes Robinson (age 54)

1431 Main Street
Interviewed January
5, 1993

Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer

Click here for audio. Audio file is in .mp3 format.

Julia- We came one day in June, 1951, to visit the West Concord 5 & 10. We'd heard that it was for sale and John had sold his business in Winthrop and was looking for a new field and we came out to look at the store. That day it was a little dark and dreary, and West Concord didn't look very bright. The store was interesting and we visited with the owners, Patsy and Mary Miele, and looked around. We drove up Laws Brook Road and the little houses down there looked kind of drab and up the Avenue wasn't too appealing, but we came again in a few days because John was really interested in the store. It was a sunny day and things looked much brighter and West Concord was much more appealing. We came up Main Street, and the houses up here were on a very pretty street with trees, and we drove by a house that had a for sale on the front. John said, "I'd like to own that house some day." I guess about two months after that we moved into that house, and it's been our home for 40 years. We came in June and we bought the business in July.

Maynard- The 5 & 10 was where the sandwich shop and the drapery shop is now when father bought the business. It had been in existence since 1935 and it started across the street when the dog grooming parlor is today, and after the war moved across to that location. They expanded and contracted around the Christmas season and I think the year before my father bought the business, they had expanded into both sides of the building.

Julia- I think our idea then was it was a 5 & 10, but it wasn't long before John opened lines and plenty of merchandise. He was famous for having lots of merchandise always.

I remember the other stores on Commonwealth Avenue. Across the street was the hardware store, Frank Moscariello was the owner. Downstairs in the old hotel building were several, but they were not thriving at all or attractive. Down the street, Andersen's service station was where Minuteman Chrysler is now.

Maynard- Krist Andersen who passed away just a month ago owned and operated that and had for some time. It was a Chrysler- Plymouth agency and International trucks. Glen Swett had the drug store between where we were and the post office, which is still in its same location. The dentist, Dr. Davis, had his office where Needle Arts is now. The Garnet Mill was down where the Leather Shop is today. Dan Hayes who lived across the street from this house, up on the hill owned the Garnet Mill and ran that for some period of time.

Julia- Joe Hay, Condon, and Mandrioli, and Carters were all there then, and now they are second and third generations.

Maynard- Where the shopping plaza is now was Derby's farm, a big old yellow farm house and the rest. They had a big barn where they had antiques and second hand things. There were no banks in West Concord then. That is a part of the story that we will talk about a little bit later on.

Concord Woodworking was the industrial park behind us. That was John Damon and the Damon brothers and cousins ran Concord Woodworking, which was a company that made snow fence and trellises and wood products and marketed them all over the country. Dovre Ski Binding was in the building that Minuteman Press is in today. They were famous during World War II for the ski bindings for the 10th Mountain Division and other skiing outfits and made ski binding products for some years after the war.>/

Mrs. Holden, Holly Holden's mother, worked in the back of the machine shop there at Acadian Utilities and she made wooden clothes drying racks which were the envy of that industry. Her supply and demand was such that she was always behind in orders because I think she was the only one doing the work. It was a meticulous piece of work that she did.

Julia- They were sold all around the country.

Maynard- Whitney Coal & Grain was in the location of Junction Square today. It was strictly coal and later oil that was delivered out of there. In our time there were no grain sales. There may have been in previous years but I don't think in our time.

Julia- We used to be open two nights a week, Friday and Saturday until 9:00 p.m. I believe the hours changed when the stores down in Concord Center started to be open Thursday night, and so we cut down on our nights and we were open Thursday night too. Back in our early days, our families came Saturday night. It was family visiting day or evening. They would come and bring a long list for the next week of things they needed. It was just a nice family gathering.

Maynard- The thing that made the change was as businesses started to pay people on Thursdays, stores stayed open Thursday evening to be able to allow people to do shopping. I think this was the catalyst that made things change.

Earlier it was mentioned about stockage and the rest as far as the 5 & 10 was concerned and was it oriented toward being a general store. The history of that is my father grew up on a farm in a little town in Nova Scotia, wasn't enamored by the farm life and worked in the general store that was three miles down the road. This general store had food and all the other necessities of life - hardware, and probably a little bit of clothing, boots and the rest. He gained his orientation towards stores and the general nature of stores through that experience. The experience that he had when he moved from Nova Scotia to Massachusetts in 1929 until 1951 it was all grocery business - A&P for 11 years and 10 and a half or so as an independent grocer under the Pioneer Food Store. So when he came to West Concord, he had had that experience to build on. It was a function of what people wanted was what he saw as the nature of the inventory. He did that by having a want book and when somebody wanted something that he didn't have, he wrote it down and went shopping for it. He went to Boston one day a week to visit the different wholesalers and distributors in and around Boston and the communities between West Concord and Boston. That's how the inventory was built. It was a function of if you wanted it he bought what he had to satisfy you, and then put the rest of them on the shelf, realizing that if you wanted it then probably there were one or two others somewhere in the community that had the similar needs or desires. The business has continued that same philosophy even up to today. That trend continued right through and we try to maintain the same type of relationship with the community even today.

The West Concord community changed and developed, there were movements. A couple of the businesses that we did not talk about as we mentioned West Concord in 1951 was Tombeno Plumbing and Yager's Bicycle Shop. They occupied the first floor and the front portion of the current West Concord 5 & 10. The building was owned by the Bartolomeo family who were a West Concord fixture for a great number of years and had run a fruit and vegetable business there out of this same shop. As that business went out, Tombeno ran his plumbing shop out of the building. Tombeno built his own building up off of Commonwealth Avenue, and as he was moving out, that space was coming available and the building was for sale. This happened in early 1958. My father had had seven years in West Concord at that point. Things had not been easy but things had moved along, and progress had been made with everything except the landlord in the building where the 5 & 10 was. He didn't want to expand or improve the building and he didn't want to sell the building. So when the building down the street became available, my father bought it, and in 1958 moved the business a few doors down the street.

It was a monumental move. Palmer Movers helped and moved some of the bigger things, and we got re-established in the new building. It was 1959 when the actual move took place. In 1958 we used a portion of the upstairs as a toy annex. An interesting anecdote, one of the women who currently works in the store was a high schooler at that point. I had graduated from college and was set to go into the Army that Christmas, but Nancy Hutchinson or Nancy Delfino at that time, dealt with Christmas toys in this little annex down the street. There was a period after high school until eight or ten years ago that she didn't work for us but she's been back for that amount of time.

The business moved in, and in 1968 my father expanded the building, squared it off. What had been backroom storage was opened up as selling space and a 1200 square foot storeroom was built onto the back of the building. It didn't take long to fill that somewhat empty space with merchandise and fill it in with things that people wanted, the same philosophy. Don't have an empty shelf! One of the favorite expressions was "You can't do business from an empty wagon!" He epitomized that and we continue to do the same.

Carolyn- My father was involved in the community more than just being a businessman in town. He always seemed to know what was going on and who was doing what. He was part of the Village Improvement Association and he belonged to the Minutemen and the Chamber of Commerce.

Maynard- The Village Improvement Association has been in and out of West Concord history since the late 1800s. It was actually a creation of one of the older Damon men [Edward Damon]. But this iteration of the West Concord Village Improvement Association came about in the early '70s. It came about because the Concord Chamber of Commerce and the former Board of Trade was struggling to get itself growing in downtown Concord and looked to include businesses in West Concord. They were two independent business areas and I think the orientation of the people involved in the Concord Chamber of Commerce was much more toward the downtown Milldam area as well it might. The Village Improvement Association was an attempt by West Concord people to set West Concord out within the community and the communities at large. It was a renegade group, if you will, of West Concord business people who took great pride in this little West Concord community, and for those who remember the Junction Functions which were an early September Town of Concord birthday time celebration, they were a good melding of the West Concord community. My father was an active participant in both the Concord Chamber of Commerce and the Village Improvement Association. He felt that we couldn't break the umbilical cord from downtown Concord, but he saw the need to become involved in the Village Improvement Association at the same time.

The fact that many of the West Concord businesses are owner occupied is the key to what makes West Concord tick, and it has been for years. Mother talked about the number of generations in the Mandrioli, the Condon business, the Hay business, the second generation in Carter furniture business is getting out to the end without another generation to carry it on, but somehow I feel that there will be a transference there. In the West Concord Pharmacy which is new from our original time, but over in the shopping center, Bobby Carr continues on in the pharmacy business as Arthur is more concerned now with real estate and retiring. So you see that there continues to be those fixtures and it makes the people who live and work there and make a living from the community much more interested in what's going on in the community, then those who rent, go home at night to some other community. It makes a vast difference.

Julia- In the early days people paid in cash for everything. You had to have very good identification to cash a check. I believe there were very few checks that ever came back.

Maynard- One of the biggest sources of checks were payroll checks. Whatever night it happened to be the family nights as people came in, father made sure there was cash available so that their paycheck could be cashed. Checking accounts were not the thing of the day at that point.

Julia- Or credit cards.

Maynard- Well, and the point of the banks as I alluded to earlier, there were no banks in West Concord, so if you came from work to shop and you had a paycheck in your pocket, somehow you had to deal with it. I know the West Concord supermarket cashed payroll checks and probably still does in some cases. Definitely not as many today as they did at that time, but we were involved there also.

The advent of a bank in West Concord came when the Hudson Bank moved in. My father had prodded the downtown Concord banks, Harvard Trust now BayBanks, and some of the others to come to West Concord and open up a branch. There was enough business there; there was a need for a branch in West Concord. When the Hudson Bank finally came and the downtown banks didn't follow along immediately, I think that the West Concord merchants who were here were pleased and showed their support by dealing with the Hudson Bank. That changed things, they became open on Thursday evening. I think it was 1967 or in that timeframe. I think that was the time when you saw the whole cash flow system of the individual start to change -- more checks, the advent of credit cards, and then the proliferation of credit cards so that now, there is a reasonable amount of business done through those means.

Carolyn- I think change also came as the building in West Concord increased. When we came, there was no Thoreau Hills, there was no Deacon Haynes Road, upper Laws Brook Road, all these areas were built. The schools got more active. The old wooden schoolhouse was torn down in the playground area at Harvey Wheeler. When I came, it was the first year that the 7th and 8th grade went to Concord to middle school at Peter Bulkeley. Other years there had been up to 8th grade here in West Concord. More people moved in, more families moved in.

Maynard- GenRad moved out here from Cambridge at about the same time we moved here. It was a big thing that helped to build the area. We're reading in the papers today that 1958 was when Digital started, so Digital helped to provide a network and an occupation for a great number of people who moved into the area. The electronic firms all over helped to expand the population here and Concord, Acton and Carlisle, the towns we serve.

Carolyn- In those days too, the train was a focus. There was a bus line that went from Maynard to Harvard Square. It wound its way through the little towns. So people did have access to getting out of town if they didn't have a car or a second car or if their father worked someplace else. So it did make for a more mobile society after a bit. A lot of people walked to wherever they were going. I wore out baby carriage wheels walking. It does show that the area has grown tremendously. When we were young people, there was the older generation, now there is another young generation moving in to where an older generation has moved out. Times are changing but staying somewhat the same in the turnover.

Maynard- Concord has grown more affluent but West Concord was a more modest lifestyle and it still is. There are many definitions of West Concord. Some people would say West Concord is everything this side of Route 2, and some people would say it was 500 feet circumference from the "99", some people would cut and paste the area. The focus of all this side of Route 2 then you have a much greater mixture of individual finances than you did in the 1952 timeframe. This was farm country, as Carolyn said. Thoreau Hills was woods. You went out to Nine Acre Corner and there were a few large farms. So that the division at that point put modest incomes of the little center village of West Concord which was built around manufacturing. Laws Brook Road were houses for one manufacturing venture, Highland Street was for another, Crest Street-Cottage Street hill was the harness factory houses, and you went up Commonwealth Avenue to the prison houses. So the community of West Concord as we understood it in 1951 was oriented towards working in the local community. Where as you see most of downtown Concord were traveling to Boston or dealing in some other activity where there was, and is today to some extent, a lot more wealth than here in West Concord.

West Concord was able to provide a source of employment for people and continuing employment. Those who were locally here were those that work in the businesses. That made for, as we talked a little while ago, walking to work or walking to a great many activities. It didn't require a car to get to work. It didn't require a lot of parking. The transition over the course of 40 years to having to look for parking in the downtown business district is a greater concern today than it was. It's a greater concern in almost every business district today. But West Concord is no different than other business districts. The fact that parking meters are due to come to West Concord certainly will change the bucolic nature of downtown West Concord, but it may be something that will help ease some of the tensions over different types of businesses and their individual parking plans.

Julia- I think we can see a vast change in the look of West Concord business area from when we came to town. The stores are all nicely painted and repairs have been done. The whole street looks nice. The merchants have a better feeling in working together than they did back in those days.

The West Concord Union Church has been very important to our family over the years. It is a very big part of the West Concord community and has been for many years.

Carolyn- Again the churches were central to the area. They delineated West Concord and Concord. There is a congregational church in Concord Center and there is one here in West Concord. It was an interdenominational church. Our Lady's helped the people of the Catholic faith here on this side. Everything being so centrally located where you walked to the library and the store and the church and school and work, whatever, you don't see as much anymore. Although you see a few baby carriages being pushed nowadays, as the young people move back in. It has changed. It is a very busy street on Main Street. Commonwealth Avenue is a very busy street, you take your life in your hands trying to get across at certain times of the day. The train station is now revamped and was a very big parking problem because so many commuters are coming and going on the train.

Julia- In 1991 John celebrated his 85th birthday and the 40th anniversary of the store. In 1983 we were selected as the town honored citizens. It was a great honor.

Maynard- I think part of the reason for the recognition stems back to the involvement in the community as well as involvement in the community through the business. Both mother and father had been active in all kinds of organizations within the community. My father had been a member and chairman of the Board of Health in the town, active in Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, and was also involved at town meeting time. There weren't many times that he would not be available to help to find this or help you find that or do this or do that. I think it was the recognition of that total involvement within the town that provided the impetus for this selection as the honored citizens.

Julia- That was a big year, 1983. That was our 50th wedding anniversary, and the Concord Minutemen went to Europe, to Scotland and Paris, so it really was a full year.

Maynard- You mentioned the 1991 celebration. We put together a series of pictures which you have gone through, Renee, of memorabilia trying to outline from the picture of my father and Patsy Miele on the sidewalk in June 1951 as they were getting ready to transfer the ownership through a great many different stages up to even the picture in the Globe that put three generations of Forbes men in the mirror image in the 5 & 10. It was a time of reminiscence and a good family time, and a good time to look back over the people that had worked at the store. We had a number of people who worked way back in the early days of the family ownership. one person who couldn't be there was a woman by the name of Mildred Ionella. She was in ill health at the time, and we did talk with her at that time, and we've seen her since then. But she was a mainstay of the organization in those early days. She was one who epitomized walking to work, she lived down on the corner of Conant Street. Her husband worked for the railroad. She was part of this little close-in West Concord community. There had been a great number of others over the course of the years who have come and worked./

Julia- Mildred had worked for Patsy Miele, so when we bought the store, she consented to come and work for us, which was good because she knew the customers and knew the area. She had a daughter that was in school in the same class as Maynard. The only time that the West Concord 5 & 10 was closed until the last few years was on high school graduation day when both Maynard and her daughter graduated and the families wanted to go, and that left no one to tend the store. So the West Concord 5 & 10 was closed. That was quite unusual.

Text mounted 26th September 2012. -- Audio mounted 7th November 2015. RCWH.