Contributing Writer: Phil Heywood, Briarwood Resident and regular contributor to the monthly residents’ newsletter, “News & Notes.”
What was Spag’s? From 1934 to 2004 it was a discount department store known to all in Central Massachusetts as a shopping place like no other! It was unique in many ways and is considered to be the forerunner of today’s “big box” stores such as Home Depot, Lowes, Target, and others. The real story, however, is not the store itself but the man behind it — Anthony “Spag” Borgatti who opened the Shrewsbury Battery and Tire Service in 1934. Born in 1916 into a family who owned a spa called the Venice Emporium, he came by his retailing instincts naturally by working in the store starting at age six.
Here are some of the ideas he later incorporated into his own store called “Spags”: Prices were heavily discounted to favor the average working class family. He did this by paying cash for all inventory he bought. No charge cards were accepted. No bags were provided to the customers (that changed in the later years). He stored his new inventory in tractor trailers to avoid paying for it until it was unloaded and put on the floor. He owned a huge number of trailers parked on a lot next to the Rt. 9 store. The layout of the store itself was something else – there was no rhyme or reason to it – paint cans, nails, lighting fixtures, tulip bulbs, and motor oil were all mixed in next to groceries and books. At its height the store had four buildings: the main store, the school house, the sport shop, and the garden shed where one million tomato plants were given away each spring to 40,000 happy gardeners. The number of full and part time employees totaled over 200.
The Spag merchandising philosophy was totally customer-oriented. Briarwood resident Don Johnson worked there for 30 years. The husband of another Briarwood resident, Char Shumway, met Spag in the store when replacing a broken lawnmower part – Spag gave him a whole new mower for free. It was the same story for Briarwood resident Skip Hall who broke a club playing golf. He wanted to order a new one – but left with a free replacement on the spot! Another Briarwood resident remembers Spag fondly; Bill Fyffe heard Spag speak in Dudley (his language was notoriously colorful to say the least).
Spag was a true character with a generous heart; he traveled the store in his ten gallon hat, baggy chinos, and a pens always in his front pocket. He always said, “If you don’t see it, ask; I’ll find it for you or get it to you tomorrow.” His involvement and contributions to the community were legendary. The saga of Spag’s continues today with many more stories yet to be told as we “remember when.”