O'Brien's Market, a longtime Lenox gathering spot, sold
LENOX — After 27 years selling coffee, lottery tickets, beer and wine, newspapers, candy and the like, Dan O'Brien says he no longer felt the "oomph" needed to keep the pace — 15 hours a day, 365 days a year.
So, the owner of O'Brien's Market, a convenience store "where everyone knows your name," put the place on the market.
After more than a year without landing a buyer, O'Brien has made a deal to sell the downtown building to the owners of the neighboring Frankie's Ristorante, who intend to transform it this year into a pizzeria.
But, the demise of O'Brien's store, a gathering place for legions of regulars who chewed over town politics and traded strongly held opinions on matters local and national, leaves a void in town.
"We opened at 6:30 and had several waves of regulars," O'Brien told The Eagle, starting with contractors, painters, plumbers, electricians and, in summer, Tanglewood employees. Then he had an 8 a.m. crowd of folks heading for office jobs, and an hour later, the retirees would come in.
"It was somewhere to hang out, talk politics, drink coffee and socialize," he said. "I was used to seeing 200 to 250 people a day, so, this has been a rapid change of pace. I miss the people and the town. That was the best part; it was always fun making pots of coffee for my friends. But, I don't miss the job and the hours, and the future is bright."
O'Brien, a Pittsfield native who returned to the city several years ago, after living in Lenox for more than a decade, acknowledged that, at 57, "I'm much too young to retire. I'll take a little time off, recharge my batteries, find another business venture, but I don't know what it is at this point."
His grandfather, John J. O'Brien, had founded Crescent Creamery in Pittsfield in 1936, while his father, Jack O'Brien, served as the company's president for 28 years, and Dan worked there for 10 years before grabbing the opportunity to run the store, where he also had worked for years.
A market has operated on the Main Street site since 1884.
Most recently, it was Hill's Market, run by Don Hill. O'Brien, who had worked there since he was in high school, took over the market in 1993. In 1995, he purchased the Main Street building, which was owned by Maureen and Marino "Rino" Cimini, his sister and brother-in-law, respectively.
The couple previously had operated it as Cimini's Market.
In a 2013 Eagle profile marking his 20th anniversary as proprietor, O'Brien called his "corner store" a hub that attracted regulars because it was authentic, "a real place," he said.
"When I'm in a bad mood, you know I'm in a bad mood. I don't try and sugarcoat it," he said. "When I'm having a good day, people come in and say, `What's got you so happy?' It's stuff like that."
"It's part of what New England is all about," he said. "I think people in whatever town they live in are used to having a little store where you walk in and they know who you are, they greet you by name."
Lenox electrician Scott Pignatelli used to keep some of his tools in a barn located on the property that originally belonged to one of the market's former owners, the late Lenox basketball promoter William B. "Butch" Gregory. When Gregory retired in the late 1970s, he sold the market to the Ciminis.
Pignatelli, a lifelong Lenox resident, has called O'Brien's Market a "landmark. It's just old school, small-town America."
It might have been a relic, but, for many locals and even some part-time residents, the search is on for a new hub to swap stories and connect with friends and neighbors.
As for Dan O'Brien, he took the outside sign down a few days before the transaction went through and is keeping it at home, as a symbol of bygone times and a thanks for the memories.
Eagle business editor Tony Dobrowolski contributed to this article. Clarence Fanto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.
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