5 Over 50
Photo credit: Dawn Kingston
History runs deep in Massachusetts. If you live here, you are accustomed to strolling by 18th-century graveyards, Colonial-era ships, and houses that predate the founding of the country. Our businesses fit right in. Throughout the North Shore, every town has a handful of shops, restaurants, and other establishments that have been in place for many decades. These are places that have so delighted generation after generation, they have become more than businesses; they have become integral parts of their communities. To highlight these local icons, we have rounded up five of our readers’ favorite institutions that have crossed the 50-year threshold and are still going strong. Their choices include everything from fish to flowers, from ice cream to candy (and, in one case, both under one roof). So read on to learn more about our region’s most beautiful and tastiest traditions.
Growing up, Eric Emerson was a kid in a candy shop, literally. His haunt was Putnam Pantry, the iconic Route 1 candy and ice cream emporium that was founded by his grandfather in 1951 and taken over by his father in the late 1960s. “I had pretty cool birthday parties when I was a kid,” says Emerson, who bought the business from his father at the beginning of 2014.
The original idea for Putnam Pantry was born when plans were in the works to expand Route 1. Emerson’s grandfather owned a plot of land adjacent to the road and realized the increase in traffic would present a prime business opportunity. At first, the shop sold only candy. In 1958, Emerson’s grandfather opened an ice cream shop across the street; about a year later, he conceived of the make-your-own-sundae smorgasbord that is now Putnam Pantry’s signature offering. The ice cream operation was eventually folded into the same building as the candy.
Now that Emerson and his wife have taken over the operation, they’re in the process of polishing up the somewhat outdated building. They are replacing all the old production equipment and installing windows to allow visitors to view the candy making in progress. The goal, Emerson says, is to create a true “Willy Wonka experience.”
Putnam Pantry’s commitment to making its own products will not be changing, however. The majority of the candy will still be made in-house, and the hot fudge on the ice cream will still be freshly made in copper kettles out back. “We’re going to keep all the things that people expect,” Emerson says. “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”
So don’t worry: The smorgasbord isn’t going anywhere.
When James Turner’s grandfather moved from Newfoundland to New England in the 1920s, he intended to work for the railroad company. But the pull of the ocean proved too strong. “His heritage lured him back to the fish pier,” Turner says. Turner’s grandfather started working as a seafood salesman. He was good at his job, and it wasn’t long before an entrepreneur approached him about launching his own wholesale fish business, an enterprise that flourished for decades.
When fish stocks declined and government regulations tightened in the late 1980s, Turner, his father, and his three brothers decided to spin off with their own high-end wholesale business, launching in Melrose. A few years later they expanded, opening a restaurant and fish market. In 2006, they opened a market in the historic fishing port of Gloucester; two years ago they opened another restaurant and market in Salem.
The company is “finicky” about its fish, Turner says. Every day, trucks go to the docks in both Gloucester and Boston to get the best local product. Both of Turner’s restaurant locations include a seafood market, which Turner says is an indication of the quality of his wares. “We’re not ashamed or afraid to put it right there in front of you,” he says. Indeed, Turner says, it is the seafood and the family heritage of fishing that drive the business.
“We love what we do,” he says. “We’re fish people in the restaurant business.”
PETTENGILL FARM (Top Votes for 2015)
Growing up, Jan Richenburg hated working on the family farm in Salisbury: She hated the smell, the hard labor, the long hours. As soon as she could, she headed to school in Boston. But her escape didn’t go according to plan. “I hadn’t been there a year when I realized everything there was pavement and there was no place to walk in the woods,” Richenburg says.
So she moved back home and joined the business at Pettengill Farm, adding her name to a tradition dating back to at least 1792. Back then, the farm produced food for the family and products that could be bartered with other locals. By the 20th century, the land was home to a thriving farm stand and Richenburg’s grandfather traveled in a horse and wagon, peddling milk and eggs. Richenburg took over the operation in 1982.
Today, the 70-acre farm boasts gorgeous display gardens and sells perennials, annuals, and other ornamental plants. Richenburg’s daughter and son-in-law have also joined the business; the next generation is raising chickens and pigs, as well as branching off to include aquaponics systems, in which fish and plants grow together, the plants drawing nutrition from the fish waste. And these days, Richenburg’s distaste for farm life is very much a thing of the past.
“It’s food for the soul is what it is—I wake up happy,” she says. “I am so happy that somebody is going to take over who loves it as much as I do.”
At Richardson’s Farm in Middleton, founded in 1695, visitors can check out grazing cows and goats, or maybe pop next door for a round of mini-golf. But let’s be honest: The ice cream is the star here and has been for more than 60 years.
The always-evolving menu of 85 flavors features classics like chocolate and strawberry and more modern concoctions like coffee Kahlua brownie and green tea. Sometimes older, less popular flavors fall off the list, says Ned Bolth, part of the ninth generation to run the farm. “But we hope to replace it with something newer and better,” he adds.
The farm began at the very end of the 17th century, simply as a way to grow food for the Richardson family, some of the country’s earliest settlers. Cows have been a part of the operation since the very beginning—the company estimates that cows have been milked on the property every day for the past 300 years. Eventually, the farm expanded into a dairy-focused commercial farm. Then, in 1952, Hazen and Ben Richardson decided to see if they could turn the farm’s milk and cream into “one perfect ice cream.” Within a decade, the ice cream stand was serving more than 50 flavors.
Today, Richardson’s ice cream is also sold at Jordan’s Furniture in Reading and at dozens of independent ice cream shops throughout the state. But it is the original stand on the farm that has become a true North Shore institution.
“The purpose of it is to be a day or afternoon of fun for a family,” Bolth says. “It’s the place where kids can visit the cows that make it all happen.”
YE OLDE PEPPER CANDY COMPANIE
The shelves at Ye Olde Pepper Candy Companie in Salem are stocked with nearly endless delights: fudge, turtles, taffy, and truffles. But it is a far less well-known candy that gave this long-lived business—the oldest candy company in the country—its start. Delicate, white, and flavored with lemon or peppermint, the Gibralter has a history stretching back well over two centuries.
According to local lore, the candies were first made in the early 1800s, by Mrs. Spencer, a recent arrival in the city. She started selling her confections out of a horse-drawn wagon that doubled as transportation on the Underground Railroad, says Jaclyn Russell, daughter of current owner Robert Burkinshaw. Today, the wagon is memorialized in the company logo.
The Pepper family that gave the shop its modern-day name took over the business in 1835. In the early 20th century, an assistant candymaker named George Burkinshaw bought the confectionery from his employer; today, the fourth generation of Burkinshaws runs the shop. “It’s more than just a job,” says Russell. “It’s in your blood.”
Since her childhood duties as unofficial taste-tester, Russell has made chocolates, handled shipping, and run the company office. Her father got started in the business during his grade school years, when the candy production was done out of the basement of his family home. And he can’t imagine doing anything else, he says.
“It’s great to be a part of history,” says Burkinshaw, taking a quick break from his candy-making duties. “And you don’t want to let it go.”