By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Residents throughout central Massachusetts have countless memories of shopping at Spag’s, the pioneer discount department store on Route 9 from 1934 to 2004. Some memories are captured by photographs and informative captions in the 2015 Shrewsbury Rotary Club Calendar, dedicated to Spag’s and its owner Anthony “Spag” Borgatti (1916–1996).
Working on the project is a labor of love for the fundraiser’s chair, Art Dobson of Shrewsbury, who developed a longtime business and personal relationship with Spag.
“I became very good friends with Spag and his wife, Olive,” he said. “I had lunch at their place at least four days a week.”
Dobson worked as a food broker and ultimately formed his own business. He supplied food to Spag’s for 23 years.
“It all started with 50 loaves of Italian bread in 1972,” he explained. “They didn’t have any perishable products before then.”
Increasingly successful bread sales led to Spag personally asking Dobson for more perishable products. Among the items he supplied were cheese, eggs, milk, maple syrup and baked goods.
“Spag was enormously gifted with marketing expertise,” Dobson said. “He was on top of everything. He recognized what he should do and when he should do it.”
Dobson also credits the businessman for knowing his customers.
“Spag cared about the working people,” he said. “He wanted to help them buy food at a low price.”
Fittingly, Spag was a member of the Shrewsbury Rotary Club and hosted its annual cookout at his home with about 150 guests. Dobson was among the members manning the grill.
“We’d always have raffle tickets for fundraising and donate all the money to St. Anne’s Human Services,” he recalled. “Spag was an expert at selling $300 worth of tickets within a half hour. Nobody would refuse him.”
In 1984, Dobson and Bob Kinchla served as co-chairs for Spag’s 50th anniversary celebration. Expecting a large attendance, Dobson booked the former Worcester Centrum (now DCU Center) at a cost of $6,000.
“Olive wrote a check for $6,000 and I mailed it,” he relayed.
A week later, he received a call from a member of the arena’s board of directors to explain why the rental fee would be waived.
“They didn’t charge because Spag did so much for the community,” Dobson said. “We told Olive and that was the first time we saw tears in her eyes.”
Shortly before the celebration, Spag underwent a heart operation. The family encouraged the co-chairs not to cancel or postpone the celebration.
“They said that Spag wouldn’t let us down, and he did pull through and survived,” Dobson said. “We had 1,200 people, a 25-piece orchestra and a full-course gourmet meal.”
They also had money left over after paying for the event’s costs. A donation of $40,000 was given to the Worcester County Heart Fund.
Spag’s philanthropy is displayed in the calendar with photographed plaques presented by the Shrewsbury Rotary Club and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Also featured are photographed paintings of Spag and Olive that are in the reading room of the Shrewsbury Public Library. The photos were taken by Joyce Maranto.
Calendars can be purchased online for $10 plus shipping and handling at shrewsburyrotary.org. It will also be sold during the Spirit of Shrewsbury Fall Festival at the Rotarians’ booth at the Town Expo to be held Saturday, Sept. 27, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Oak Middle School lawn. Among other locations where it’s available is the Shrewsbury Senior Center.
The calendar will surely prompt many fond recollections, Dobson noted.
“I love talking about Spag’s,” he said. “It brings back so many great memories.”