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The many memories of Almacs

These photos were recently posted on a Facebook page dedicated to the history of my hometown of Blackstone, Massachusetts. I was instantly transported to the past.

Almacs was my childhood grocery store, located just a mile from my home. The company went out of business in 1995, but there was a time when Almacs was the largest grocery store in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

Almacs featured a conveyor belt that carried groceries from inside the store to the sidewalk outside, where customers could pull up to the sidewalk and load their cars.

The bakery department sold gingerbread cookies year round in the shape of gingerbread men. If my siblings and I behaved as my mother shopped for groceries, we would each get gingerbread cookies before heading to the check out.

We were not well behaved human beings.

Canned goods were refilled from behind the wall, rolling down can-sized chutes. Take one can, and the cans stacked behind it would roll down, filling the spot once occupied by your can.

I pulled many cans from those chutes that my mother did not want or need just to watch those cans roll down the chute. In the absence of cell phones, we had to find ways to amuse ourselves.

It was a far better time.

My brother and I would collect the frost from the open freezer cases at the back of the store and create snowballs that we would throw at each other, seriously jeopardizing our chances of receiving a gingerbread man at the end of the outing.

Gumball machines were placed beside the exit, filled with gumballs and many other small, useless prizes. For a nickel, dime, or quarter, we could leave the store with a prize that we would likely forget about by the time we arrived home. We were sadly never allowed to buy gumballs from the gumball machines. My mother did not think children should be chewing gum.

To this day, gum has no appeal to me.

S&H green stamps were given to customers based upon the amount spent on groceries. Those stamps were then be “licked and sticked” into a S&H saver book. Fill enough saver books, and you could trade them in for merchandise.

The kids did the licking and sticking. Our mother chose the merchandise. I have no idea how the S&H company earned a profit.

The brown paper bags that were used to pack our food were known in our home as “Almacs bags.” To this day, I still think of the brown, paper bags that I receive from grocery stores as Almacs bags.

My parents bought our set of Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedias at Almacs, letters A-J only before money got tight and encyclopedias stopped being important. I read those encyclopedias cover to cover more than once.

Almacs would stop selling eggs to teenagers one week before Halloween, a fact that I discovered only after trying to purchase eggs on October 30 for nefarious reasons.

The Fotomat stood in the middle of the parking lot, usually manned by a teenager who collected film for processing. Over the course of my childhood, my mother forgot to pick up dozens of processed rolls of film from that Fotomat, thus leaving our childhood memories in the hands of a stranger, who probably threw them away after a month.

To the left of the Almacs was a restaurant called Stewey’s Diner, where we would very, very occasionally eat when I was little. When we did, my parents would sit at one table and seat the children at another. This struck me as clever on my parent’s part at the time, but I can’t imagine not sitting with my own children today.

Even at their worst, I enjoy spending time with them.

To the left of the Stewey’s Diner was the bank. After grocery shopping, my mother would stop in the bank and deposit money into the Christmas club account, a bizarre means of saving for Christmas by giving the bank $5 each week so that at the end of the year, you’d have saved $250 for Christmas presents.

Why adults in the 1970’s and 1980’s didn’t just deposit this money in an interest-bearing saving account is beyond me.

Why the need for a special Christmas account?

Also, interest rates were as high as 15% on savings accounts in the 1970’s and 1980’s, making saving this way a legitimate return on investment.

When I was a teenager, I took my girlfriend, Laura, on a date to Almacs. We took a carriage up and down the aisles, filling it with oddities while I cracked jokes about cereal brands, frozen dinners, and stewed prunes. We played catch with an orange in produce. We rolled canned goods down the aisles like bowling balls. We shook up cans of soda and left them on the shelf for unsuspecting customers. We tore open a package of hot dogs, and I taught Laura the joy of eating an uncooked, precooked hot dog.

I wrote “MD + LM” in the frost of a freezer case’s glass door.

Once we had filled our carriage with groceries, we abandoned it in the bakery department alongside those gingerbread men, purchasing only a bottle of grape soda and a can of vanilla icing. We ate that icing with a shared spoon while sitting on the hood of my car in the parking lot, and we washed it down with grape soda.

Laura was skeptical of the idea at first, but she later admitted that it was one of our best dates.

I’m at my best when I have lots of material to work with, and it turns out that the grocery store is filled with a multitude of material. Sources of humor, stories, malfeasance, and amusement.

It’s incredible how a couple of photographs can suddenly transport you back in time and bring back so many memories.