General Store, Uncommon Community Paltrineris Mark 50 Years
By Sean Sullivan
Chirps of checkout-stand buttons being punched could be heard as John Paltrineri stole away to a more serene space to chat. It was the week leading up to Christmas Sunday, and his Fiske’s General Store was bustling with shoppers.
“My wife’s at the register, running the show right now,” he said as the background noise receded.
Last year marked Paltrineri’s 50th year running the historic Holliston store, though Fiske’s origins are far more mature than that. As Paltrineri tells it, a 23-year-old James Fiske founded the retail enterprise in 1863, specializing in hats, caps and trunks.
The 19th century store also sold railway and steamship passenger tickets. What had checkout conversation been like during those early days? The Civil War was well underway.“Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier,” wouldn’t be invented for more than a decade, ancestor of the modern cash register.
Fiske’s antique storefront font still pays homage to those 1800s origins. The squat typeface stands on blocky ifs, a departure from the fancy flourishes one might find in advertising of the day. Fiske’s is the type of font one might find lining facades of tumbleweed-blown streets in a western film, or etched on the bottle of some 18th-century cure-all concoction.
The message those letters are meant to convey is clear. No nonsense. Honesty. Wholesome simplicity.
The original Fiske’s fell to a fire a few decades after its inception, was rebuilt and run by its founder’s daughter Annie until the 1950s. During that time, the store began to broaden its offerings, appeal to a more diverse customer base.
Decades later on Jan. 1, 1973, Paltrineri began running the store with his father. At that time, Fiske’s was half its future self. In 1985, the Paltrineris took over the square footage occupied by an abutting hardware store that had closed, expanding into the space through the wall that had separated the two businesses.
These days, Fiske’s General Store lives up to its moniker, selling everything from clothes to craft supplies, toys to home goods. A loyal and local legion of customers has kept the business going for generations.
Two men chatting with Paltrineri about the store’s merchandise and history said Fiske’s held a special place in their imagination since they’d visited as children decades earlier.
“We remember this place being sort of magical,” one said.
Fiske’s is no chain store, but rather a single link in a community that prides itself in living up to the values that word implies. Paltrineri said he’s proud that Holliston is home to few nationally-known retail brands, able to count them on a single hand.
“Just quintessentially New England,” he said. “We’re like a little bubble. We look out for each other.”
Unusual for a small business of Fiske’s size, the store offers a loyalty program to customers whereby they pay an annual fee to support the store and earn perks. “Friends of Fiske’s” can partake in special discounts and other benefits.
During the heady days of Covid, said Paltrineri, local shoppers sustained Fiske’s and a sense of community by continuing to shop there. Easter of 2020 was a sign of hope, signaling local support for the store.
Fiske’s had offered custom Easter baskets in years past, wherein the store would assemble personalized collections from patrons’ specifications. That year, with customers unable to visit in person, the store built 286 baskets. Like many other businesses, Fiske’s had also adopted a popular pickup program just outside the storefront.
“We did a lot of sidewalk deliveries,” said Paltrineri. “We were building to order. It was keeping us alive.”
Paltrineri recalled working the register during those early days decades ago when he and his father began running the store. That was where he first saw and “was smitten” with Carol, whom he would later marry in 1980. The spot where she stood during their first meeting is memorialized with a permanent marker. The two continue to run Fiske’s General Store to this day.
“We’ve been together ever since.”