(A cherished mom-and-pop vegetable stand was targeted for closure this by city code enforcement officials.)
It was Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend, and something was out of place at the intersection of Salem and Cooper Streets. To the untrained eye, there were three potted plants discarded along the sidewalk on the corner. On closer inspection, they turned out to be fig tree saplings, abandoned in haste by a father and daughter when they were ordered by a Boston code enforcement officer to vacate a makeshift produce stand that was a beloved summertime fixture for North Enders and foodies.
Every Saturday from June to September for 45 years, husband and wife, Joe (Giuseppe) and Josie (Giuseppina) Tammaro transported home-grown vegetables from their Billerica farm to a curbside pop-up market featuring fresh greens, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, Roman beans, zucchini flowers and a host of other Mediterranean delicacies, including jars of Josie’s legendary home-style mushrooms and marinated eggplant. Joe passed away last September after a long bout of illness, but Josie was determined to carry on as best she could with help from her son Patrick (Pasquale) and 15-year-old granddaughter Rachel who lovingly intervened to keep the decades-old family enterprise afloat. They certainly weren’t doing it for the money. You might say they were in it as a consolation to the recently-widowed Josie who returned on sunny days holding forth from an aluminum beach chair and dispensing smiles and pleasantries with old-timers in a southern Italian dialect.
It did not take much effort or imagination to conjure up the sounds, smells and ambience of Josie’s childhood paese – an ancestral village in the rolling hills of Campagnia. The Tammaro family’s sidewalk mercato has been part of the rhythm and fabric of an increasingly-gentrified neighborhood still clinging to certain traditions and a way of life that is facing extinction.
And so it went on a Saturday morning when a uniformed officer from City Hall summarily ordered the father and daughter to break down their stand. Patrick tried in vain to explain about his parents’ operation. They had never been approached about a license or permit in 4 ½ decades of openly conducting business along the sidewalks of Salem Street. There never was a warning. No heads up. Not even a get-a-permit-or-you-will-be-out-of-business-next-week.
This was a set piece from City Hall, intentionally directed at an elderly woman’s vegetable stand as payback for an unrelated incident occurring during Saint Anthony’s feast on the previous weekend. It was a calculated act of bureaucratic bullying, an example of selective enforcement of an arcane municipal ordinance which had nothing to do with the Tammaro family. Not a big deal in the life of a city, but still a heavy-handed reprisal against a family and a way of life in a neighborhood creeping towards a tipping point.
(From Boston’s North End, Thomas F. Schiavoni writes about neighborhood life and city living)
Update: The vegetable stand has returned. See this follow-up post.