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CHANGE: Dorothy’s Costume Boutique, 1947-2020

June 26, 2020 3 comments

Dorothy’s Costume Boutique located at 190 Mass. Ave, NEVER Massachusetts Avenue, will be closing on June 30, 2020 after 73 years in business.

I stopped by to listen to Jon Diamond, the son of the founders about the history of this Fenway institution.  I am greeted by a cash register sprouting more buttons and levers than I can count. 

“Perhaps it is of World War II vintage? I ask Mr. Diamond?

“It is my grandparents.”

“When was this store founded?”

“My parents…

“Not a parent company …”

“Ha, ha.  Yes, my folks Dorothy and Harold.  It was kind of like Bernie and Phyl’s.  A family business.”

…Mexican sweaters, Afro wigs, digital watches…

“What was the original concept?”

“We were a millinery in the neighborhood.  Kind of an alternative to downtown.  We also had costume jewelry.”

…a dozen faceless, eyeless Styrofoam ovals peer down from a shelf just below the ceiling bedecked with a variety of headwear…

“So you were always alternative?”

Mr. Diamond looked over his shoulder while straightening out the necklaces perched precariously above the watches and laughed.

“One thing we’ve been able to do is retain our core business.”

“Yes, I can still see that you sell a lot of hats.”

“Yes, and we’ve branched out into other stuff.”

“That’s OK I can put back the makeup,” Jon said as 2 guests were leaving with a cart chock to the brim with hats, wigs and a cornucopia of theatrical makeup.

The gentleman dressed up with a COVID-19  mask with a Jolly Roger death’s head moved to the back where Jon and I stood and actually returned the merchandise!

“Yeah, I guess you could say that… Hey, please pay attention to the customers, puh-leaze,” said Mr. Diamond with the 1/2 grimace 1/2 smile used so often by folks engaged in the direct supervision of staff in customer service venues.

“What qualities do you look for in employees?”

“They have to be honest, energetic, learn the stock and be able to run a register.  You’ve gotta be able to engage with people all of the time with a smile and you can’t be too sensitive.  She, [Mr. Diamond gives a head nod], is a good worker but she gets upset too easily.  You can’t take things personally.  She’s been working here for 3 years and she just doesn’t talk with customers as much as she should.”

“When did you start working here?”

“I was in grade school.  I worked downstairs in stock and tagged merchandise.  My brother Rich worked here too.”

“What was the neighborhood like then?”

“Black.  This whole stretch of Mass. Ave. from Boylston all the way to the end of Mass. was black.”

“All of the real estate ads say ‘Back Bay’ now.  I used to live at 4 Symphony Rd. for $25 a week for a furnished room.  It seems the Fenway doesn’t even exist as a neighborhood.”

“Definitely, this was pre-gentrification.  A lot of what is now called the South End was called Roxbury for years.  Boylston Linen was next door and there was Symphony Deli…”

“Symphony Deli became Dixie Kitchen.”

You’ve got a good memory.  There was the Bostonian Market, which became City Sports.”

“What was your clientele like?

“Well, women looking for hats and costume jewelry.  And we always had neighborhood folks and Berklee, Conservatory and Northeastern students.  Black women came by for wigs.

We added theatrical make-up in 1985.”

“For the drag queens?”

“Ha ha.  Yes, and we had kids from the drama departments of the schools so we just expanded our inventory.

We’re a mid mark-up store.  We try to keep things affordable.

In 1988 we doubled the size of the store by taking over the Boylston Linen slot next door.”

“I’ve always come in even for just a few minutes to look at what have you and about once a month make a purchase.”

“Yes, we’ve always had neighborhood semi-regular customers.  That goes to what I’m talking about when I’m talking about our core.”

“You used to sell underwear and T-shirts.”

“Wife beaters..”

“You mean spousal disablers.”

“Ha ha.  Well A-shirts and socks.  The problem was that  street people would come in buy 1 and walk with one and we were spending all of our time watching them even when the underwear were tucked in the back so it got to where it wasn’t worth it.”

“So where do you get your stuff?”

“I buy a lot of close-outs in clothing and visit vintage store quite a bit.  For other stuff, [waving his hand around the store] I use specialty sales reps.  Facebook, Instagram, whatever.”

…fishnet stockings, stocking caps in June, devils and angels for Halloween…

“You know the very first time I was here was in my first summer here in the Fenway back in 1979.  I was across the street and I heard  disco coming from an open door so I walked across the street and looked in.  I couldn’t believe what I saw…a bunch of punks trying on dog collars and buying black bandanas.  Then I looked to the back of the room and saw Afro wigs.  I couldn’t believe it!”

Jon looked up from the sunglasses he was re-arranging and laughed.

“A lot of musical trends have been outfitted here you know with Berklee and this area once had a lot of musicians living here.

“My folks were involved until 1984.  I bought out Rich in 2007.”

“Who is the landlord here?”

“Christian Science has always been the landlord.  This building is from the 19th. century.  it is far from ‘green.’ 

“Is Christian Science a good landlord?”

Stepping out from behind the jewelry counter Jon grimaces.

“Well we’ve gone from $600 to $6000 in rent.”

“Is the building maintained?”

Jon gives me a sour look, gives a hand signal to the cashier on duty and takes a deep breath, “No, they do as little as possible.”

I have improved the building, which is not my job.  I added the awning in 2004 and in 2000 took out the lay-in ceiling and exposed the original ceiling which is a lot nicer.”

Indeed the pressed tin ceiling is a nice look.

“But now that they know we are leaving they let me out of the lease which ran until 2022.”

…camouflage jackets, ergonomic backpacks, Pride flags…

“You know on Halloween the line stretches around the corner.”

Jon straightens up from picking a piece of paper from the floor and smiles.

“Yes, ever since we doubled the size of the store it has only gotten bigger.  We have all kinds of costumes, toys, hats and just about whatever anyone could want for Halloween.

“I’ve seen you guys on TV.”

Jon says nothing but gives me his best fake smile…and I laugh!

…American flags, MAGA hats, Uncle Sam Hats…

“So, why are you closing?”

“It’s everything.  COVID-19, Amazon, no Red Sox.”

“Yeah, I remember when the Sox won you had Red Sox T’s in the window.”

“Definitely.  The Sox, Pats, when the Celtics and Bruins win, there is always a lot of interest. I always root for us to win a championship every year!

…I spy a dour Bill Belichick mask…

St. Patty’s is my 2nd. biggest holiday.  4/20, tourists in town buy Boston t-shirts all the time.  The Sox not playing has hurt us not just for the Sox but for foot traffic.

I have colored contact lenses I would be selling.  They are a hot product right now.”

“I know I’ve seen them at the club.

So is COVID-19 why you’re closing?”

“Yes, that and Amazon.  Once Amazon got on phones it got very tough.

COVID-19 is the big one.  I’m over 65 so I’m in the high risk group and with business the way it is.”

Jon shrugged his shoulders and gave a half smile.

“So what is the future?”

“Maybe I’ll open up a pop-up across the street.”

“One week a month!”

Jon and I laugh.

Many will miss Dorothy’s. 

I among them.

HAIKU 5*7*5* Corona wish for all’s health

April 5, 2020 1 comment

A wish for all’s health

Edgerly Rd. is quiet

Like September 12th.

BARTENDER’S TIPS #2 “The customer is always right…especially when they are wrong.”

March 15, 2020 1 comment

“The customer is always right,” is truly one of the requisite cliches of any and all forms of customer service.

“And we’ll be right back to the NorthGarden where the Celtics are leading the Cleveland Cavaliers 72-61, after this word from our sponsor.”

“Hey, you know Kevin Love is the son of one of the Beach Boys.  Someone said that his uncle played in the NBA.  You know everything about basketball..,”

“Well, I don’t know everything but Love’s uncle played for the Baltimore Bullets..,”

“Huh?”

“The Baltimore Bullets became the Capitol Bullets, who became the Washington Bullets and are now the Washington Wizards.”

“How did that happen?”

“Well the NBA thought that ‘Bullets’ was too violent so they changed..,”

“And now they are named after the Klan!?”

“Well..but… yeah, Kevin Love is the son of Mike Love of the Beach Boys.”

https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Kevin_Love

Actually Kevin Love is the nephew of Mike Love of the Beach boys and the son of ex NBA player Stan Love…but let’s just move on.

“The customer is always right,”…

As an adult beverage distribution engineer my experience is that customers often offer this bromide to evade payment, leave with cocktails and initiate conflicts with security staff.

There ARE some things that aren’t right, refusing to pay for a drink is actually the crime of “defrauding an innkeeper,”

Section 12C. (a) An innkeeper may refuse to admit or refuse service or accommodation in the hotel to a person who: while on the premises of the hotel acts in an obviously intoxicated or disorderly manner, destroys or threatens to destroy hotel property, or causes or threatens to cause a public disturbance, or refuses or is unable to pay for the accommodations or services.

I will spare you, gentle reader, further links to MA law.

“The customer is always right …especially when they are wrong!”

In 1985 I was tending bar at Our House East under the supervision of Henry Vara III.  I had already worked at Our House(West), Cornwalls and Narcissus so I was well versed in the policies and folklore of Kenmore Management as headed by Henry Vara Jr; indeed, this was one of the reasons I was hired.

Board games, in this pre-smartphone era were offered in many of the pubs of 1985, Cornwalls among them.  Trivial Pursuit was the best of these for bar sales as Trivial Pursuit tended to prompt interaction among the players who often invited the bartender to join in.

It was a warm Monday spring evening without the blessing of Monday Night Football, a thing at the time.

I was trying to keep my guests at the bar so passers by would see folks at the bar and wander in without feeling a tad of guilt about entering an empty Our House East.

So I hauled out Trivial Pursuit and performed a cursory examination of the contents to make sure there were sufficient cards so that all 3 of us could play.

I timed my introduction of the game 1/2 way through their 1st. pints of Rolling Rock which was $1.50 a pint at the time.

Obviously, this was a long time ago!

Hey, we’ll play.  Wanna join in?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” I replied with the usual mix of camaraderie and con that characterizes a good deal of bar side bull.

Job #1 was easily accomplished with 2 more beers being ordered and change piling up alongside the board.

These guys were actually pretty good and U.S. History and Movies were strong categories for the 2 of them.  After a while it became apparent that they were pretty good friends who did not have plans that involved anything later in the evening, or for that matter, early the next morning.

However, they were competing with each other and with myself.  I did well in U.S. History and O.K. in Movies but got whipped badly in Television and Fashion when in walked Henry, I always called his son and my supervisor HV 3; the major domo of Our House East.

Unlike many of my co-workers I wasn’t petrified by the presence of my owner.  Indeed, I had been on Henry’s more or less good side since he had witnessed me grabbing money from guests with a degree of intensity that crossed the line into abrupt.

“Hi, Steve G.”

“Hello God.”

A 3rd. round of Rocks were served as the 2 gents broke into an animated conversation about the glory of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, which I didn’t know much about.

Henry gave a bemused smile to my guests and your narrator and ordered a screwdriver with precisely a 1.25 oz. shot of Vodka City bar liquor and puffed on his cigar.

Obviously, this was a long time ago!

Trivial Pursuit regained my attention once the next 2 categories turned out to be Alcoholic Beverages and Baseball; 2 subjects that were and are close to my heart.

I decided to win.

“A Brandy Alexander is made of..?

“1 part brandy, 1 part white creme de cacao, 1 part milk, shake and strain,” I proclaimed to the slack-jawed gaze of my contestants.

“Who was the very first baseball Rookie of the Year?”

“Jackie Robinson when there was only 1 Rookie of the Year for both leagues,” I yelped.

“How do you remember all of this stuff, Why remember all of this stuff?” one of my opponents asked while staring into the dregs of his Rolling Rock.

“Wanna play again?”

“Nah, that’s O.K;” the more talkative of the 2 said while standing up and pushing an Honest Abe to me.

“How much did you get?” Henry asked with a conspiratorial glint in his eye.

“5 bucks.”

“I would have gotten 10!”

“Huh?”

“I would have thrown the last question and let them win,” Henry said with a devilish grin.

“Huh..but I’m right!”

“THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT…ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY ARE WRONG!”

Henry proclaimed with a vehemence that I didn’t know was part of him.

Henry seemed taken aback by his own intensity.  He put his cigar back into his mouth and chewed upon it reflectively.

“It’s good to be smart but nobody likes a smart ass.

Who do you think you are?

“JOE GENIUS”

I have learned much in the 7600+ bar shifts I have worked but this may be the most important thing I have learned from my most frequent employer.

“Joe Genius” indeed.

 

Patriots Parade, February 5, 2019

February 6, 2019 Leave a comment

“So you’re a Pats fan?”

“Actually I’m more baseball and basketball.”

“What are your favorite sports?”

“Bicycling and lifting weights”

“No, I mean to watch…”

Ugh.

Nothing could have dampened the good cheer of Tuesday’s 1.5 million fans lining Boylston St. for what has come to be almost an annual ritual; the Duck Boats carrying another Boston champion team to be cheered by adoring fans.

However, not to put too fine a point on it but I found the inquiry by my fellow reveler a tad disquieting in that he assumed, always a risky proposition, that “favorite sports,” referred to watching rather than taking part.

Once upon a time I was an awkward chubby, pre-pubescent rooting for the Mets, Jets and Rangers, transfixed by the low definition grays of our trusty General Electric 12″ black and white.

Watching a Mets game before bedtime inspired the next day’s self-hitting 3-on-3 baseball game on the dead end of North Bayles Ave. in the Port Washington, N.Y. of my boyhood.

The time I spent watching was greatly exceeded by the time spent I playing.  I wanted to BE a player.

Today’s fan wants to LOOK like a player as in one of the innumerable Patriots’ jerseys that cloaked the masses along Boylston St.

My fandom inspired activity rather than sloth.

It seems to me to me that we have a classic case of ‘wag the dog’ when watching  comes to mind rather than doing when it comes to all manner of activity and sport.  The soft, bloated bodies of young folks seem to be the mainstream of today. 

This comes in spite of, or maybe because of, the wide availability of sugarless, low fat and vegan products and the easy availability of instruction in all manner of sports and fitness.

Life is doing. 

Fandom is fine as an inspiration and motivation.

What is not so fine is that young folks are more sedentary than folks of earlier generations.

 

 

 

HAIKU 5*7*5* Mist

November 9, 2018 1 comment

My cheek has been kissed

Like Aqua Net Super Hold

The rain is a mist

HAIKU 5*7*5* March snow

March 15, 2018 1 comment

March snow slicks the street

Salt and gravel mitigate

Lather, rinse, repeat

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