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Medfield shares memories, sense of loss at store’s closing

Millie Grover moved to Medfield in 1944 and has been shopping at Lord’s ever since.

Except for summer vacations spent in Maine, Grover figures she’s stopped into the family-run department store on Main Street just about every day for the better part of 59 years.

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Now the store is set to close on Feb. 28, and for Millie it’s like losing an old friend.

“Most every morning I come in for my cup of coffee,” she said, motioning toward the old-fashioned lunch counter at the back of the store. “I can’t really talk about it,” she said, apologizing for her tears.

Right there with a comforting hug was Nancy Kelly-Lavin, who with her brother Tom Kelly has run the store that their father, William J. Kelly Jr., worked at since its opening in 1940, and purchased from Raymond Lord in 1981.

Kelly-Lavin said she and her brother were taught by their father that the people who shop in their store aren’t just customers, but also friends and neighbors.

And as news spread that the time has come for the pair to sell the store, those friends and neighbors have shown that Lord’s has been much more to this small town than just a place to shop.

The store’s second owner, William K. Kelly Jr., worked his way up from delivering fliers, and then sold it to his children, Nancy and Tom.

NANCY KELLY-LAVIN PHOTO

The store’s second owner, William K. Kelly Jr., worked his way up from delivering fliers, and then sold it to his children, Nancy and Tom.

‘Lord’s represents the character of Medfield. . . What we’re losing is a lot of stores under one roof.’

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“Lord’s represents the character of Medfield, ‘’ said Russ Hallisey, a real estate lawyer who is active in the Medfield Employers and Merchants Organization. “It’s been a cornerstone here for 73 years, and downtown is definitely going to change when it’s gone. What we’re losing is a lot of stores under one roof.”

Kelly-Lavin said her father’s motto was, “If you can’t find it at Lord’s, you don’t need it.”

The shelves are stocked with everything from Yankee Candle Co. items to knitting needles and yarn, batteries, holiday decorations, toys, art supplies, and an array of Medfield sports uniforms and spirit wear, as well as just the perfect present for the aunt who decides to show up for Christmas dinner at the very last minute.

The store has opened every morning at 6 and closed at 9 at night, 365 days a year, since it opened.

“We sell a lot of batteries on Christmas morning, because Santa always forgets the batteries,” Kelly-Lavin said. Coffee is also poured free on the holiday so people who have no family in the area have a place to gather, she said.

Even in 1981 when there was a fire in the store’s basement that destroyed all the inventory and covered the store with black soot, the doors never closed.

“That was the worst day and the best,” Kelly-Lavin said.

Nancy Kelly-Lavin and Tom Kelly, brother and sister owners of Lord’s Department Store.

NANCY KELLY-LAVIN PHOTO

Nancy Kelly-Lavin and Tom Kelly, brother and sister owners of Lord’s Department store.

She remembers it being about 11 at night, firefighters had controlled the fire and her father was devastated as he looked around the store, parts of which were closed off by the Board of Health because of the smoke damage.

“All of a sudden there was a knock on the front door, and we could see a resident from town standing there with rubber gloves, a mop, and a bucket,” she said.

Soon, there were at least 60 volunteers with paper towels, rags, and a spirit of community pitching in to help.

“At 6 a.m. we were open for business because of these people,” Kelly-Lavin said as her eyes brimmed with tears.

Bill Kelly, who died in May, was hired in March 1940 to ride his bicycle door to door and deliver fliers announcing the store’s opening.

He did such a good job, passing out more fliers than any of the other boys and even riding his bike to houses in neighboring Dover, that Lord promised him a full-time job once he returned from World War II, his daughter said.

Bill Kelly returned home and never worked anywhere else.

“We’d come to work at 6 in the morning and Dad was here, and we’d leave at 9 at night and Dad was here,” Kelly-Lavin said.

Over the years Lord’s became not only the place to buy poster board for a last-minute school project or food for the pet hamster, but also the place where local news was spread, where tickets for any event in town could be purchased, and where you were always met by a familiar face.

“A woman once told me that when she went away on vacation, she always knew she was home when she drove past the Lord’s sign,” said Kelly-Lavin. “I loved that.”

The family has set up a table with a memory book, already nearly filled, for people to share their stories, and Facebook has a page called Medfield Remembers Lord’s.

There’s a hand-written letter taped up in the front window of the store from Brad Harris, who said he grew up in town and now lives in Canton.

“I bought my baseball card collection from you — one pack at a time, stale gum included,” he wrote.

The memory book is filled with childhood tales similar to Harris’s.

“I bought the first poster I hung on my bedroom wall from Lord’s — Henry Winkler,” someone wrote.

Another wrote of “waiting in line for a special Beanie Baby.”

Millie Grover has been a regular at the Lord’s store in Medfield since 1944.

ELLEN ISHKANIAN FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Millie Grover has been a regular at the Lord’s store in Medfield since 1944.

“I bought my first lottery ticket here and won $100,’’ was another entry in the book.

“I love this place,” said Kathleen Schnicker, who grew up in Medfield and now lives in Ashland. “Every day after school we all met at the soda fountain, and ate a brownie and had a vanilla Coke,” she said. “We’d tell our parents we were going to the library.”

She hadn’t been to Lord’s in years, she said, but like many others who have heard the news, she called an old friend and drove over.

“I had to come and have a cup of coffee with my friend,” said Ray Croteau, his arm around Schnicker. He drove from Hampton, N.H., to sit at the lunch counter one last time.

“We love this place, and it’s the same as it’s always been,” he said.

After their father’s death, Kelly and Kelly-Lavin said the time was right to move on. Business is still good, they said, but they accepted an offer from Salvatore Capital Partners of Dedham and finalized the sale at the first of the year. The company has not yet made public what it plans for the site, which includes the 10,000-square-foot store and parking lot in back.

“Over the years we’ve had a lot of offers, but the time is right now,” Kelly said. “It’s sad, but we’re walking away with nothing but good memories, and a lot of them.’’

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.
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