"He instinctively can find the shining greatness of our American culture and does a good job of highlighting it (although he also does have those rare lapses when he writes about hockey, but that is something caused by impurities in the Eastern waters or something)." Erik Keilholtz
Under the patronage of St. Tammany
Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Ten Things I Was Doing Ten Years Ago * Awaiting the arrival of our second child, our daughter. * Awaiting our eldest's second birthday. * Working on a Halloween piece for the paper on local haunted places. * I can't for the life of me think of what else I was doing in October 1998, and I don't have a calendar like Amy's that will jog my memory. But a Lexis search does turn up more of the newspaper pieces I did over the course of that year, so I'll cheat and round out the tally by listing a few: * A story on how the ventilator cowl of the USS Maine came to rest on Woburn (Mass.) Common; * A story on merry-go-round restoration; * A story on a rigger who moved entire houses from one place to another; * A story on the amateur ballplayers of the Over 30 Baseball League; * A story on a car club devoted to vintage Corvairs; * A story on police efforts to prevent jet-skiing on the Concord River; * And appropriately for this post, a story on local 5&10s.
Crab mallets and trolley garters, pop guns and wobble wedges, flue stops and egg poachers.
You won't find these items in every store, but you will at Balich 5 & 10 in Arlington Heights, where the motto is, "Can't Find It? We Have It!"
"In a big store, you have trouble finding a salesperson to even ask where to find one of these," mused store founder Antoun Balich, contemplating a backscratcher with a handle in the shape of an owl.
Stocking the oddest of odds and ends is the secret to success for the independent 5-and-dime, a nostalgic piece of Main Street Americana that is becoming increasingly rare in this age of chain stores.
In this area, two independent 5-and-10-cent stores - Balich's in Arlington and the West Concord 5 & 10 - survive by providing customers with a mom-and-pop brand of service you don't find at a mall.
At the West Concord 5 & 10 one recent Saturday morning, owner Maynard Forbes roamed aisles lined with cap guns, piggy banks and lemon reamers to ask customer after customer, "Can we help?"
A 25-year veteran of the Army field artillery who served two tours in Vietnam, Forbes retired with the rank of colonel in 1982 and took over the family 5 & 10 on Commonwealth Avenue that his father, John, had run since 1951.
"In the artillery business, it's having the right ammunition in the right place at the right time," Forbes said. "This is more complex."
Items for sale at the West Concord store include penny candy, eight types of balsa gliders, metal kazoos and Slinkys, tong-handled soap-savers, stainless-steel cheese cleavers, and "pickle pickers" for extracting the last one from a jar.
There are bobbins for sewing machines and rubber tips for walking sticks, flag poles, teapots and ever-popular plastic soldiers, little 10-cent pencils and score pads for bridge, fishing bobbers and sinkers, and, in a refrigerator out back, trout worms and nightcrawlers. Prices are as low as a few pennies apiece for nuts, bolts and washers.
"Being an independent allows you to sell what you want. That's the fun of the whole business," said Forbes, 61. "Woolworth's and Kresges, in the old days, had fixed stocks, but as an independent, you bought what you sold. You hoped you bought the right thing, you hoped you bought the right amount, and that you had the right amount of the right thing at the right time - which is the eternal challenge."
Forbes' efforts at predicting demand for silver dip and tomato cages have evidently been successful. His old-fashioned dime store, which traces its roots to the mid-1930s, maintains a loyal following in the increasingly upscale West Concord neighborhood.
"He has everything, absolutely everything, in this store," said one customer, Peter Olsen of West Concord, who arrived at the shop in search of an electric juicer for oranges and limes.
Beth Morris of Concord said she has shopped at the store since she was 5. "They know where everything is, which absolutely amazes me," she said. "I was in the other day for something to waterproof a horse blanket. They had it. And shoelaces! Where else can you find shoelaces?"
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Five Things On Today's To-Do List * Keep eye on youngest (bronchitis) while wife pinch-hits at Cub Scout popcorn sale * Help get daughter to soccer team photo shoot * Tailgate with alumni at Jumbos-Purple Cows football game * Contemplate mowing the lawn * Cheer on the Red Sox
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Five Snacks I Enjoy Eating * Mr. Peanut * Bean dip * Chips and hummus * Cheez-its * Potato sticks
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Five Places I've Lived * Beacon Hill * Allston, Mass. * Medford, Mass. * Denmark, Maine * Washington, D.C.
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Five Jobs I've Had Canoeing counselor at girls' summer camp Waiter at the old Wursthaus, Harvard Square Sandwich-board pamphleteer Newspaper reporter Campaign press secretary
If you are so inclined, consider yourself tagged!