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Joseph E. Fernandes papers

This is an online exhibit that focuses on the life of Joseph Fernandes and the generational impact his chain of grocery stores had.

Anecdotal History

The following are four anecdotes that demonstrate some of the reasons why Mr. Fernandes was able to grow his supermarket chain in a sustainable, customer pleasing manner:

  • Early on in the life of the Easton store, the use of trading stamps was adopted. Customers would fill books with stamps that they received after each purchase, and once full, they would the books to a redemption center to exchange them for their choice of products.
  • The use of the shopping cart was adopted early on in the growth of the chain (late 1950s), as there was evidence that customers who used shopping carts, purchased more products. 
  • The chain expanded the role of a supermarket bakery with the rise in bread prices and the need for freshly baked goods. During the Blizzard of 1978 prior to the market's closing later that year, Fernandes was still open as customers tell of memories of hiking through snow and taking a sled full of groceries home.
  • The chain openly advertised that they not only met competitors' prices, they also offered 2% cash refund when customers saved cash register tapes. They would save the tapes until it totaled $100 or more!


Anecdotal History

The following are comments from former customers and employees

I worked at the store at Campus Plaza in Bridgewater during high school and college. It was a fantastic job and terrible that it went under. Bob

I liked the square burgers in the cafeteria. Steve

Best cake donuts in New England. Maria

They had the most awesome tasting knot rolls. Robin

I worked at Fernandes in Easton from high school through college in the mid-70's and 80's. It was truly like family. One of my favorite jobs. Met [the owner] a couple of times when he checked in on our store -- a very nice man who took the time to chat with a lowly teenaged bagger. Tom

"Dirty Old Boston" Facebook page


External sources of information

Commemorating the 250th anniversary of the town of Norton: 1711-1961. [Norton, 1961]

"Fernandes Supermarket reunion organized by former manager". Standard Times. March 2, 2001.

"Grocer Fernandes 'Hall of Famer'". Standard Times. October 17, 1999

"Unionville in Easton, Massachusetts, Bristol County". Historical Images of Easton, Massachusetts. Easton Historical Society in North Easton, MA. Available here 



Ads, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy of Peter Wiggens via the Nostalgic Norton Facebook page

Jose Fernandes Store

Fernandes Supermarkets

The following text has been pieced together from a number of sources, as there is no official history of the founding and running of Fernandes Super Market Inc.  Included in this brief history are Marcia's comments about specific aspects of the expansion of the business.

In 1947, his military service and graduation from Boston University, Joseph Fernandes, took over his father's small grocery and butcher shop that had been in existence since 1933. This original store was located on West Main Street in Norton and had been operated by Jose Fernandes and his wife, Rose, with the casual assistance of Joseph and his three sisters, Bemvinda, Mary, and Evangeline. .  Mr. Fernandes stated "When I graduated from Boston University my dad asked me to try my hand in the meat industry, so I tried it, and he retired. I opened a small market across the street from where I lived. That’s when it all started."

At the time Joe began as the head of family business, there was a strong economy and population growth. The post WWII period (from 1945- until 1972) was the strongest period for growth and increased standard of living in American history.  (Reference: The Rise and Fall of American Growth, by Robert Gordon).   My Dad always said he just "got lucky".  Having finished business school at BU he was full of confidence along with a hard-working family committed to living the American dream.  My Dad told me his 3 sisters worked to help pay his college tuition, and for that he would always be grateful to them.  Back then, having "the girls" attend college probably wasn't even considered.  

For the next 32 years, he slowly, but assuredly grew the initial single store into a total of 37 Fernandes Super Markets. The family owned the chain from 1947 to 1979, with stores throughout the south coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

My Dad loved the supermarket business and worked diligently to be on the cutting edge.  Nothing seemed to slow him down as he expanded the business.  

He had big dreams even as a young boy riding his bike to deliver groceries around town for his dad. His process was to stay close to his hometown of Norton at first.  The second store was in Easton, which was a town close by and where his oldest sister, Bemvinda's, husband (Anthony Pires) was from.  They ran that store.  From there, he became more strategic in the selection of locations, which was said to be one of the reasons for the success of the chain.  As the old adage goes, "location, location, location", especially when it comes to retail and real estate investment.   He later placed stores in areas with Portuguese populations (such as New Bedford) where there was good will and "affinity" towards him due his community involvement.  

He never talked about facing hurdles per see as he expanded the business. There was not a lot of competition as many of these stores were in small towns with middle income residents.  He started building strip malls instead of stand-alone supermarkets to attract more customers to the store.   He told me that he did feel bad that the supermarket would often put smaller Mom and Pop stores out of business (like the kind of store his parents started with).  Also, there was not enough of a population to sustain a second supermarket, so many competitors would not come in.  Ultimately, his family business was challenged by larger more sophisticated supermarket chains, who did go in with the intent to conquer the market.   This has been a decades long evolution in retail where it is now dominated by national chains.  With the advent of online shopping, retail faces a new era.  


In 1979, he sold the family business to Springfield Sugar, a wholesale company who in turn sold the property to SuperValue, a Minnesota company. As of 2020, none of the buildings that housed Fernandes Supermarkets are grocery stores. It is not public knowledge exactly why the chain was sold, however his eldest daughter, Marcia, stated that the union disputes of the 1970s were a cause, and it is known that the chain filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy in September 1978. Mr. Fernandes stated in 1999 "We hated to sell it...We enjoyed it. My father used to say 'when you plant flowers make sure you have time to smell them".

The following individuals were some of the first employees of the supermarket:

  • The first manager of the Fernandes Super Market in Easton was Anthony T. Pires, who with his wife, Bemvinda (Mr. Fernandes' sister) resided in the house next to the market. Mr. Pires would work his way to a position of vice-president in the company by 1967, and would eventually assume the position of president of Fernades Super Markets. Mr. Pires' parents were also natives of Madeira. 
  • James "Jim" Barrett worked as a cashier, assistant manager and followed Anthony T. Pires as manager with a untimely death with an heart attack in 1976.
  • Nelson Figueroa was in charge of the beer and wine department.
  • Nancy L. Birnie Gill of 334 Main Street worked in the courtesy booth and Helen Steinberg, from Unionville along with Mildred Van Wormer worked at the lunch counter. Additional employees included: Bill Morse, Buddy Wooster, who was a student at Stonehill, Danny O'Reilly, Jay Conceison, Joanne Bodio and Patricia McKernan.
  • Shortly after the opening the store in Easton, David Varella paid his way to Boston University by starting as a bagger and stock boy. The meat manager, Manny Gomes, asked David if he wanted to learn how to cut and break down the meat. While teaching in Easton, he would be a substitute meat manager in the summer at other Fernandes stores. Meat was the attraction as it was in their logo. Gerald Groom, Artie Wilde and Dennis LeDau all worked in the meat room.

The following is an approximately timeline of the expansion of the chain, note that a union contract in 1974 identifies the business as having 2500 employees. 


Skyler writes: Joe, or as I called him, Papa, showed me how one person can positively impact a community and an entire industry. The concept of a grocery store chain was innovative for its time, going from a retail world of single locations with single product focuses (Meat, Bread, etc.) to multiple grocery locations with all food categories under one roof. Fernandes Supermarket employed many individuals in the communities it served, and was part of the wide spread emergence of grocery stores globally, the standardization of the bar code, and large scale supply chain, logistics, and distribution to support this new retail business model. The memory of my grandfather is a constant reminder about the importance of building a scalable business. 

Staff and Stores

Marcia tells us: 

I worked in the bakery as a high school teenager. I began working during the first strike in 1974 as a "scab" in the luncheonette and continued during high school. I attended Babson College as a marketing major and during the summers I worked in quality control and special projects.  I did a cost-benefit analysis of the luncheonette and had determined that it was no longer a worthwhile feature given the square footage being used.  That drew a lot of backlash. 

Donna worked one summer between high school and college (1977) running a chain-wide consumer research project regarding customer satisfaction.  

After the sale of the supermarket chain in 1979, both of the Murphy brothers went on to open supermarkets themselves.  However, they both eventually moved on to other careers.

Richard Pires was the only family member to continue with Springfield Sugar for a period of time.

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