PEPPERELL — John McNabb has watched Main Street in Pepperell change and develop for 46 years through the window of his shop, McNabb General Store. What used to be a strip of small, independently owned businesses has boomed into the development that exists today.
“Traffic has picked up tremendously; you used to be able to talk in the middle of the road. Now you can barely cross it,” said McNabb.
Soon, McNabb’s shop will become a part of that shift. McNabb General Store, and before that McNabb’s Pharmacy, which have been town staples over nearly half a century, are about to switch hands as McNabb gets ready to enter retirement.
The shop has the oldest active business certificate in town, according to Town Clerk Jeff Sauer. When McNabb first opened it on Jan. 24, 1946, it was McNabb Pharmacy. It stayed that way until he sold off the pharmacy to Brooks around 2004.
“People say it’s the last store of old Pepperell,” said McNabb.
Still, McNabb said it’s time for him to retire and for someone else to take over.
“The age is certainly a factor … I’m in my early 70s, and most people in their 70s aren’t working,” he said.
But there was more to his decision than that; McNabb said that after selling off the pharmacy, which was 90 percent of his business, he was left largely as a vendor of general store products.
“There’s a changing business climate, especially along the border to New Hampshire. It’s extremely difficult for a small independent retailer to make it because of the difference in taxes and the proximity to New Hampshire,” he said. “If you’re not a franchise or your product is not something that you offer exclusively, it’s extremely difficult.”
Though McNabb will still own the building, he sold the business to Sunny Patel, owner of the Townsend Package Store, who will run the shop with his wife.
“He’s treated me fairly and with a great deal of respect. He truly has,” said McNabb.
Patel said he plans to change the shop into a package store to expand his current business. Right now, he plans to remove the deli counter to add more space.
But, he said, he has “nothing else (planned) until I get there.”
Patel hopes to open up shop at the beginning of November. Meanwhile, McNabb plans to spend more time with his wife, Kathleen, their children and grandchildren.
Former employee and longtime friend Tracie Ezzio of Pepperell Family Pharmacy is organizing a retirement party for McNabb behind the store on Sept. 28 from 4 to 7 p.m. The invitation is open to the public.
Ezzio left the store when McNabb sold off the pharmacy. Although they no longer work together, the two maintained a close friendship.
“John has been very supportive of me from the start and we’ve remained extremely close friends throughout the years, and I want to support him at this point in his life,” said Ezzio. “He was an excellent man to work for. I learned a lot from him … I really want to put on something that’s very special for John.”
Ezzio said the party will be catered, but as for the rest of the details, she wants to keep it a bit of a surprise for McNabb.
“I predict it’s going to be one of the biggest events Pepperell has ever had because John is loved by everyone,” she said.
The feeling is mutual, according to McNabb.
“The town of Pepperell has been very, very kind and generous to me. I can’t say a bad thing about it,” he said. “I’ve had a good run. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
In fact, he said, he anticipates the most difficult part of his entire career will be bidding farewell to his customers at the party.
“I’m going to have to fight back the tears,” he said. “I’ll miss them. We’ll miss each other.”