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It's All About Community

by Chris Cain
January 12, 2019

On Monday, January 7th, the Holliston Public Library hosted a Meet the Author session with local writer, Ted Reinstein, who 'edu-tained' (educational and entertaining - not always easy to do) the audience about his most recent book, "New England's General Stores.'  The fact that Ted lives in Holliston made it possible for his co-author, and wife Ann Marie to join the fun.

Due to the repair work at the library, Library Director Leslie McDonnell, arranged for the session to be held at the Holliston Historical Society. Relocating the talk to the Historical Society was perhaps a bit of divine intervention.  As you will see in a bit, New England General Stores are tightly bound to New England historical societies.

The talk opened with a dissertation on the rise, fall, and resurgence of two iconic New England institutions: Diners and General Stores.  Every New England town had some variation of both.  With the advent of 'fast food' in the 1950's and 1960’s, diners lost favor and many closed.  Shortly thereafter 'big box stores' made it possible to get more things faster and cheaper.  So began the decline of the local stores - general or otherwise. 

The fast food restaurants and big box stores are still an option, and yet there has been a rebirth of both diners and general stores.  This probably defies economic reason.  It doesn’t, however, defy basic human needs. 

Ted introduced everyone to Roy Oldenburg, a sociologist, who in 1989 wrote a book titled, "The Great Good Place."  In this book Oldenburg introduced the idea that humans require three places in their lives.  Home and work are two of the places - no shock there.  It was 'The Third Place' that completed the trifecta - the sense of community.  Meeting and chatting with friends and neighbors - real caring and sharing. While we can transact commerce at McDonald's or Target, we are not expecting to find such interaction.  (Based on how some people appear at these transactional places might suggest they hope NOT to meet anyone they know. My words, not Ted’s)

At this point in the evening Ted focused on several General Stores scattered across New England that in one way or another stood out from the others as he conducted his research.  The act of researching for some of us might harken us back to school.  Researching General Stores sounded like it might have been much more enjoyable. Ted and Ann Marie made lasting friendships with the storekeepers they met.

Here's the historical society connection.  In more than one town, the general store had become 'unmanned' for different reasons.  It was the preservationist spirit of the historical societies that restored the glory of the General Store with tremendous financial support from their tiny populations (less than 1,000 in most cases).

The preservationist spirit also comes in the form of individuals who do not want to see a local treasure turn into a condo complex.  The Marshfield Hills General Store is one such place - current owner Steve Carrel - whose wife went to MHGS as a girl.  Who knows who you might bump into if you are in MHGS in the summer.


No General Store talk in Holliston would be complete without due homage to Fiske's.  Joanne Hulbert, Holliston's historian, shared several insights about Holliston's favorite place to shop.  For instance the first phone in Hollston was at Fiske's.  That made it easy to call down to the train depot to see if any packages had come in that day.  Is this where 'let your fingers do the walking' came from?

What an informative evening.  And, if you absolutely HAD to buy one of Ted's books, he had copies of all three.

Ted's talk (not THE Ted Talks) was sponsored by the Friends of the Library. The Friends are always looking for more members / donors to be able to offer such great programming in the future. 

Mark your calendars: next month's Meet the Author will be a visit with Abni Nor Iftin's, 'Call Me American'  on Monday, Feb. 4th at 7:00. Abni will be presenting via Skype with a discussion to follow.

 

 

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