Spag’s: The Fun Store, a Tufts mystery revealed

A Spag's trailer is depicted. Courtesy of Pinterest.

If you have walked around the Residential Quad at Tufts University anytime in the last three weeks, chances are the storage trailer outside of Houston Hall has caught your attention. Perhaps you have seen the zoomed-in Instagram stories or the memes circulating Facebook. Maybe you have even heard students joking about the trailer in Carmichael Dining Center. In large fire-engine-red letters, the side of this spectacle reads, “Spag’s,” and below it in black letters: “General Merchandise.” Next to this grand logo is the tagline “The Fun Store!” And, in quotation marks reads the declaration, “Where you meet your friends & Save Money!”

Now, if you came across this trailer, you must have wondered what it was doing there. As the days passed, you might have even begun to snoop around the construction site (a new pastime of mine) but were that the case, you would have noticed nothing interesting was happening in the remodeling of this dormitory because of that trailer. Houston is a regular construction site. Nothing out of the ordinary, like “The Fun Store!” had led you to believe.

Was this trailer some kind of joke? Perhaps it had been painted that way by Tufts itself, or the building company they had hired. It did not seem like this “Fun Store” could be a real place. Who opens a store and calls it Spag’s? The tagline was so cheesy; it hardly made sense. Making friends at the fun store? The trailer itself was even a little creepy, with the oversized cowboy hat painted on its side. Eventually, the curiosity would become irresistible, and you’d have to enlist the help of Google to satisfy your hunger for knowledge. And in searching online, you would find that Spag’s was a real and beloved superstore in Shrewsbury, Mass.

So, who would open a store called Spag’s? A man named Antonio Borgatti, who loved spaghetti more than anything.

In opening this store in 1934, Antonio Borgatti envisioned that Spag’s would become everyone’s go-to place. In the beginning, he had just a small stand selling random things, from pens to toys to kitchen utensils. It received its title from the nickname by which Antonio Borgatti was known — Spag, short for spaghetti. Eventually, the store grew into a million-dollar business, one that reflected the owner’s family-centric values. It is hard to imagine making friends while shopping at department stores, given the commercial shopping culture of 2019. But evidently, neighbors from miles around would come to this store, so the chances of seeing a friend or acquaintance while shopping for a new mattress or toys for the kids were high.

People told tales about Spag; they loved him. And from some of the tales recited on blogs by past shoppers, it seems that Spag loved his customers as well. He was known to give away toys to kids for a fraction of their price. And one time, upon catching a man shoplifting some boots and learning that he and his family had fallen on hard times, Spag gave him those and more. The kind, neighborly ways of Antonio Borgatti were beloved by all, and unfortunately seem to have fallen out of fashion.

Spag’s was shut down in 2013 after having been acquired from Borgatti’s family in 2003. Spag had passed away in 1996, and thus did not live to see the roughest times in his business. It seemed that his friendly ways just weren’t sustainable in the late ‘90s; the new commercialism of the 21st century dominated the corner store competition. Now the original Spag’s has become a complex as part of the redevelopment of Route 9. This complex includes a Whole Foods, a couple restaurants and apartments as well. The spot where Spag’s sat for years was demolished and seemingly forgotten.

So how did Tufts get this trailer? Well, that is the real mystery. Spag’s used to have hundreds of trailers in their fleet, and given that the store is no longer open, it’s possible that they are very cheap to buy, if not free for the taking. After all of this snooping, you might why Tufts didn’t paint over this trailer. Perhaps they thought it would be a kind of funny, quirky thing to leave in front of Houston Hall.


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