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Worcester County Wonders: A trip down memory lane to Spag's

SHREWSBURY — Just the mention of Spag's and one can instantly see the nostalgia gather behind the eyes of any local resident. Memories of the store seems to bring on a daydream of the good ol' days.

For those under 30, Spag's is more like a mystical creature of lore, as told by locals to remind you of what once was.

Spag's opened in 1936 by Anthony Borgatti Jr., also known as "Spag," a nickname bestowed on him as a child due to his love of spaghetti. Ultimately, he would be inspired by the store run by his father, Antonio Borgatti, the Venice Emporium, a small shop with a soda fountain and ice cream, along with candy, gum, tobacco and other corner-store items.

In the early 1930s Antonio bought a plot of land at 193 Boston Turnpike and allowed his son to use a vacant office as a storefront. At that time, Antonio predicted, “50 years from now, there will be businesses all the way along Route 9 from Worcester to Boston, like one big city.”

Little did he know 50 years later, in the 1980s, Spag's would still be going strong as an iconic shopping destination for Central Mass.

But before it was Spag's, Borgatti's small storefront would go by Shrewsbury Tire and Battery Service, selling batteries, spark plugs and fan belts. In the small store, Borgatti hung a sign reading, "If you don't see what you want, just ask; I will find it or get it for you." That sign offering a promise to customers started a revolution in shopping. Soon customers were asking for things other than auto parts, and in 1939 he changed the name of his store to Spag's Hardware Supply.

Overtime, the name was simply shortened to Spag's and the store thrived as an early discount retailer, while also paving the way for sustainability with its motto of "no bags at Spag's." The store encouraged people to bring their own shopping bags or simply carry out their goods. The store also would give away tomato seedlings to customers seasonally, encouraging people to start their own gardens.

Sustainability aside, cash was king as Spag's, as the store was cash only and remained that way into the late 1990s.

By the mid-1960s Spag's had become even more of a family business as Borgatti's wife, Olive, stepped into the role of president of the company while her husband remained treasurer. Olive created her own legacy at Spag's, one that remains, memorialized by the flower counter at Whole Foods, aptly named Olive's Flower Shop.

After her death in 1990 and Spag's death in 1996, Borgatti's daughters Carol Borgatti Cullen, Jean Borgatti and Sandra Borgatti Tavinski took over the business briefly before selling it to Building 19 in 2002. Spag's closed on Oct. 3, 2004.

Despite its closure, love for Spag's can still be found in several reddit threads and Facebook groups dedicated to the shopping experience.

"I still grieve Spag's demise like the death of an old friend," wrote Reddit user New-Vegetable-1274 in a tribute post. "It was one of a kind, eccentric, and on the surface seemed chaotic, disorganized. Once you were a regular shopper, it all made perfect sense and you wouldn't have it any other way."

Today, Lakeway Commons Shopping Center sits on the original site of Spag's with Whole Foods

taking center stage. A small memorial can be found on the side of the parking lot, honoring Spag himself with a bronze cowboy hat and mural featuring the iconic discount signs that once decorated the discount powerhouse.

Walking through Whole Foods, for those who once shopped at Spag's, tidbits of nostalgia are visible in various sections of the grocery store, including the produce section where the original Spag's sign is displayed over a display of oranges.

"I just remember all the black magic marker on all the items for sale," said Megan of Worcester, while standing at the cheese monger. "Oh! And the hot dogs. There were always hot dogs being sold at the exit."

"And it was just cheap," interrupted Matthew. Originally from outside of the area, he moved to Worcester for college and never left. "I still have tools I bought her with the original Spag-branded labels."

Exiting the grocery store and stepping out onto the large shopping plaza and parking area, it's hard to imagine the entire plot as one chaotic retail space, but perhaps that's the allure of the Spag's legend, what youngsters will never know; what once was.

T&G engagement editor Sarah Barnacle is getting to know Central Mass. by exploring some of the best places to go and things to do in Worcester County. If you have an idea or suggestion, please email

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