Ray Duckler: All in the family: market is now day-care center
Lexi Miller, the program director at the Tot Spot, a new day care for toddlers, carries a student while working on Monday morning, December 16, 2013. The Tot Spot opened earlier this month at the site of the old West Street Market on Concord's South End. The store's history with a Concord family continues after Sally Wuellenweber and her husband, Bill Gegas, grandchildren of original owner Vassilios Gegas, bought the store to open the day care.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Margaret Gegas, Sally Wuellenweber and Chris Pappas, pose for a portrait in front of the Tot Spot on West Street in Concord. The Tot Spot, a new day care for toddlers, opened earlier this month at the site of the old West Street Market on Concord's South End. The store's history with a Concord family continues after Sally Wuellenweber and her husband Bill Gegas, grandchildren to original owner Vasiliios Pappas, bought the store to open the day care.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
In the image to the left, John Gegas, Margaret Gegas's son, stands with his cousins outside the West Street Market when he was 3. On the right, a photograph of the market in 1964.
(Courtesy of the Gegas Family)
Listen to the patriarch’s children, Margaret Gegas and Chris Pappas, and the rocking horse and tiny tables in the new Tot Spot day-care center recede.
Meanwhile, the past gently moves in, like the breeze once produced by an old ceiling fan in the West Street Market.
The old-fashioned cash register, big and brass, was over there, in front of penny candies like Tootsie Rolls and licorice sticks.
The huge freezer swept across the right wall and held TV dinners, a headline-making product in the day.
And over there, running from front to back, were the shelves lined with canned goods, and toward the back you had the deli, with its fresh cuts of meat.
But it was the man who stood behind the deli counter, slicing the meat for his loyal clientele, who completed the picture and gave it texture.
“It doesn’t seem like a long time ago that we worked here,” said Gegas, 72. “My dad cut the meat to order. People did their weekly shopping here.”
It’s a family affair in the truest sense, with Greek immigrant Vassilios Pappas, known as Bill, paying a landlord and working in the store before purchasing the building 60 years ago.
The day-care center, which opened two weeks ago, is now owned by Bill’s grandson, also named Bill, and his wife, Sally Wuellenweber.
It’s the story we’ve come to love, of a boat in the 1920s moving into New York Harbor, past the Statue of Liberty, full of people searching for a better life, showing our country at its best, as a beacon of hope.
Bill, who died in 1975 at age 73, waited on the boat for a few days after docking. His brother, who’d emigrated from Greece a few years before, tossed him bananas attached to a rope. Bill, not yet 20, wondered what to do with them.
“Someone had to show him how to eat them,” said Pappas, 70.
It’s the story of a man of medium build, with dark eyes and hair, and a smile that never seemed to fade.
Bill worked at a diner in New York City, saved his money, went back to Greece to ask a man for his daughter’s hand in marriage, then came here on the advice of a friend from the old country, already living in Concord.
By the early 1940s Bill had three kids with his wife, Anna, and by 1953 he owned the West Street Cash Market.
“He worked an awful lot of hours,” Gegas said. “Early morning, and he left late at night. He’d close Sunday afternoon, and that gave us a chance to go to Hampton Beach. On occasion he’d bring us around Concord, and that was always a huge treat, especially around Christmas with all the lights.”
Gegas and her two brothers, in grade and middle school, worked at the market, helping Anna behind the register, stocking shelves, stamping cans, sorting bottles.
By the 1960s, Bill’s kids had their own families. Gegas’s son, John, loved to join Mom and his grandparents at the market by age 3.
“He spent his early life here behind the counter with my mom,” Gegas said. “He’d pick out penny candy. He sat on the stool while Anna worked the register.”
An era of hands-on attention ended when Bill died from a heart attack in 1975, four years after retiring, in his South End home, just blocks from the market.
Bill’s three children retained ownership of the building and rented it out. It’s been a grocery store, a paint store and, most recently, a market again.
Then last year, the children sold it to Gegas’s son and daughter-in-law. The couple gutted the place, a monumental task that included removing the heavy freezers, all the shelving and the compressors.
The day-care center, for kids 1 to 3 years old, opened two weeks ago. The original metal-pipe frame holds a pink-and-white striped awning out front, which Wuellenweber cranks open each morning and closes each night. The windows off West Street provide plenty of light.
“Part of the reason to open this here was because it would be multigenerational,” Wuellenweber said. “It’s the legacy for my husband’s family. It’s nostalgic to carry on that legacy for our children as well.”
The center is walking distance from the house in which Gegas and Pappas grew up, and just blocks from their houses today.
The South End remains their home.
Asked why she and her brothers didn’t sell the store after Bill died, Gegas said, “There was no reason to. It’s dad’s grocery store.”
Correction: Vassilios "Bill" Pappas was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.