The end of an era in Whitman • Whitman-Hanson Express

WHITMAN — It’s something David Menard, 69, has been thinking about each Christmas for the past few years now, but this past holiday season he made up his mind — he’s retiring.

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“We had our best Christmas ever, we had our best Valentines ever, had my best March ever,” he said. “I’m going out on a winning streak.”

As no one else in the family wished to carry on with the store, that means Menard Jeweler is going out of business after 73 years as a  family business, and 44 years of his own work in helping customers celebrate and commemorate holidays, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, graduations, birthdays and life’s other milestones.

“I’ve got a lot of friends my age that, health wise, have a lot of problems and I’m lucky I’m still good,” he said.

COVID-19 also played a role in the decision to retire.

“It was kind of a wakeup call for me, when we had to shut down for those three months,” he said. “All of a sudden instead of waking up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. [thinking about a particular order], I’m starting to wake up at 6, 6:30 …all the stress was gone and I’m thinking ‘Is this what life is like?’ Maybe my wife is right.”

He’s enjoyed working with customers, solving problems, creating pieces for people and restoring antique watches, but now it’s time to enjoy life. But no specific retirement plans have been made.

“Right now, my only focus is on taking care of our customers,” he said. “That’s basically where I’m at.”

His father started the business in 1949 after his service in World War II. With a background in a family jewelry store, the elder Menard attended the Waltham School of Watchmaking and moved to Whitman because it was between his hometown of Taunton and Rockland, where David Menard’s mother was raised.

“My dad worked for A.C. Tucker,” he said. When they were retiring, they asked if the Menards were interested in buying that store at 27 South Ave. The current location at 31 South Ave., was purchased from the Spellman family in 1960. The building was constructed by Cardinal Spellman’s father in 1885 as a grocery store.

Years ago, Menard came across a bronze medal the cardinal used to present to people, and fashioned it into a keychain for the store’s keys.

It’s been a career full of characters and coincidences David Menard will never forget — from attending watchmaking school at the North Bennett Street Industrial School in Boston, with one of the original Brink’s robbers, Vincent Costa, to graduating on Feb, 6, 1978 – the day of the Blizzard of ’78. But most, of all it’s the customers he’s met over the years and the community he felt a connection to that he’ll miss.

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He hasn’t reached for the tissues yet, but some of his customers have.

“There’s been generations — ‘my grandmother was here, my great grandmother was here,’” he said. “We’ve had several women crying last week, this week.”

When asked if he had started feeling the tears welling up, Menard said he hadn’t yet.

“I will,” he said. But he hasn’t had time to think about what the store’s last day will be like.

“We’ve been so incredibly busy,” he said. “It was amazing. We put the signs up last Wednesday night and Thursday, Friday, Saturday last week were just absolutely crazy.”

Some other customers have sent gorgeous flowers.

“It’s been such a nice business over the years,” he said. “People give us food, and candy, and gifts, and tips, and flowers, and just nice comments, thank you cards all the time. It’s really amazing.”

One person who is very happy with his decision is Menard’s wife Doreen. 

“Have fun,” is her plan.

“Basically, it’s freedom,” he said. “I worked for years and years [and] never took any time off, and for many years did six days a week. It’s just what we had to do.”

“Everyone has such nice comments,” Doreen said.

Menard gives Doreen a lot of credit for the business’ success, including her work on the front window displays.

“Without her support in handling so many aspects of the business, I would not have been able to carry on and do what we’ve done,” he said.

After buying the business from his parents in 1980, there was a big mortgage to contend with.

On Tuesday, shortly before closing, Menard waited on a couple purchasing a gift. The woman asked about who he might be referring customers to in the future.

That he has not nailed down yet, he said, noting that a close friend he has “known for decades,” is looking to open a business in town, but hasn’t decided where or what the focus of the business might be.

It appears, however, that a supportive customer base awaits him.

“We’ve been friends our whole life,” realtor and fellow Winterfest Committee member Richard Rosen said. “He’s a wonderful guy.”

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It appears, however, that a supportive customer base awaits him.

Town Administrator Lincoln Heineman said the town will miss the vital part of the downtown business community Menard’s has been.

“We really appreciate their contribution to the whole town over many years and they’ll be missed.” he said.

“Menard’s has been a staple of the town for over 70 years,” Selectman Justin Evans said Tuesday. “I wish the family a well-deserved retirement and thank them not just for their business, but for all they’ve given back to the community over the years.”

Selectman Randy Lamatina also lamented the end of the era.

“It is sad to see Menard’s closing,” he said. “The store truly is a Whitman landmark. I’d like to thank the Menard Family for their many years of dedication to our community. I wish the Menards along, healthy retirement.”

“Menard’s has been one of the foundations of Whitman,” Selectman Dan Salvucci said, noting Duval’s Pharmacy is another. “They are just on a pedestal. The entire family has done a lot for the town.”

Rosen agreed Menard’s closing will be kind of a loss for Whitman Center.

“It’s the next to the last original businesses in Whitman Center,” he said. “Duval’s is the other one. Back in the late ’40s and early ’50s there were a number of businesses that all started around the same time.”

Joubert’s and Temple Street Garage, owned by Rosen’s father, were all established in a four-year period.

“I understand David wants to retire, and I don’t blame him,” he said, “But it is a loss to the center. He’s done a great job down there for all those years and he served with me on the WinterFest Committee for 20 years. I wish him all the best.”

Community involvement for David Menard has included the silver bowls presented to the top four WHRHS students each year, a buy local program with fellow merchants in Whitman Center, volunteering with the Winterfest Committee for 20 years, — “one of the most enjoyable things that I did,” he said — helping create the “chocolate chip cookie” for the First Night Cookie Drop in 2015, he served on the playground committee and has supported youth soccer and baseball, the food pantry

“I just wanted to give to the town,” Menard said. “There was a Eugenia Lovell Medal. We used to do that, but over the years that got too expensive and I think we transitioned to the bowls instead.”

The bowls were intended as a salute to accomplishment.

“We just wanted to commemorate the students’ hard work,” he said. “Those kids work really hard for the what they get.”

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Graduation will be different from here on, Dollars for Scholars President Michael Ganshirt agreed.

“They’ve always been very nice and generous,” Ganshirt said. “They’ve never said no. They’re genuine, giving people that the community will miss greatly. … We always appreciated what they did for us.”

While Menard wasn’t certain that the silver bowl project was also done at South Shore Tech that Ganshirt alluded to, he did take a welding class there that came in handy.

“I just wanted to learn it,” he said. “I do goldsmithing and I work on cars as a hobby. When we did the Toll House Cookie Drop several years ago, I kind of instigated the [making of] the cookie.”

The Winterfest Committee had been discussing a change to a first night celebration and he told them about his welding class, offering to talk to the teacher about the midnight cookie drop idea.

The event ushered in 2015 and 2016.

Menard almost followed a career path in medicine, graduating from Bridgewater State with a degree in biology and worked briefly at an area hospital he declines to identify.

“I didn’t like the politics there,” he said. “It was awful, I kind of felt like I was in junior high school again.”

He told his dad he wanted to work in the jewelry business at the family store, but his parents tried to dissuade him, because of the time demands of the retail business.

At watchmaking school — a two-year program of 10 months each year — he spend the first year without ever touching a watch. Instead he had to make his own tools. 

“The second year we got to work on watches,” he said.

While the jewelry business has not changed much in the course of his career, he has concentrated on dealing with American jewelry makers.

“A lot of really nice manufacturers have gone now,” he said. “There’s [also] very, very few people going into the business.”

Some new businesses don’t want to get involved in the repair end of the business, either.

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