Four years ago David and Eleanor Tucker opened their Tucker's Family Farm Diner in a popular location that had housed an eatery since at least 1927.
Sunday, the latest edition of this neighborhood institution will close its doors after dinner for good, likely marking the end of an 85-year run for a mom-and-pop corner shop.
Changes in the streetscape are one of the prime factors for the closing, the owners say.
The old-fashioned diner, nestled at the corner of Maplewood Avenue and Cleveland Street, housed Uncle Moe's from 1927 to 2006.
Another start-up corner cafe made an attempt at an eatery but closed after a few months. Then, four years ago, the Tucker Farm Family Diner debuted, its walls full of vintage toys, memorabilia and trinkets — some given as gifts from customers.
The diner boasts tables as well as a horseshoe counter with stools, reminiscent of the works by Norman Rockwell, and an electric fireplace in the corner. But the loss of nearly a dozen parking places on the nearby streets — and nearly two years of public works right outside the diner windows, David Tucker says — has contributed to dollar signs that no longer add up.
"It was a rough two years, but it was after they painted in the first set of crosswalk lines I noticed that some people stopped coming because it was hard to find parking," Tucker said.
Coupled with the reduced parking, he noted that the corner is also home to three school bus stops; that means that, during the breakfast period, there are parents waiting in their cars for the various buses from about 7:45 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., Tucker said
In addition to a reduction of parking space with the painting of crosswalks — an area where cars used to park — employees from a nearby shop used to be able to park in front of a marshy area where there was no sidewalk.
Now there is a sidewalk, so they have to find parking, too. And a driveway cut on Maplewood Avenue has meant one fewer space out front.
Tucker says he does not blame anyone for the circumstance and remains hopeful that a new location can be found to set up shop again, and on one floor; the current space has a small stairway to get to the kitchen.
"We've really enjoyed ourselves here. But it's really a combination of these many things," said Tucker. "Maybe it has outgrown its time here, unfortunately. You can't beat a dead horse and this reconstruction of the sidewalks makes it a nicer neighborhood, but it's not good for business."
The Tuckers cooked up a lot more at 65 Maplewood Ave. than full turkey dinners, chicken stir fry, cabbage rolls, boiled dinners and classic breakfasts. Many patrons have come for the camaraderie and fellowship.
"It's more than a mom-and-shop diner that's going away. This place is special because it's like a family," said Annette Moulton, sitting next to a small fountain whose trickling water gives her a bit of a zen effect. "I can be comfortable and relax here," added Moulton, who has been a regular from the start.
She said she'll continue to follow where the Tuckers end up so she can continue to enjoy their culinary creations. Her nephew, Thomas Dort, now 4, has already gotten a taste for the create-your-own omelettes they share.
"He says 'hi' to one customer named Clarence and they have become friends," said Moulton. "This is also a place where I can have breakfast morning, noon and night. There's not many places where you can get breakfast all day. And you can't beat the prices for the generous portions, and they will always customize."
But with increasing costs like those facing every business, Tucker said, the precariousness of the diner's livelihood became apparent one day when his wife asked him when their next catering job was because they were two months behind on their mortgage.
"That was a wakeup call that the numbers aren't working," said Tucker, 52. The family business employed seven people, in addition to its catering.
Contributing to the numbers was that the two years of public works on the street kept some customers away. He said he knows that because the patrons have told him so.
At the beginning of the street work — when he had a compressor and back hoe left for the weekend in front of his window — he called the city's crew supervisor to move the equipment.
The city obliged, he said, but at other times, he recalled how his patrons would have to walk around a backhoe just to get to the front door.
Tucker said that, at the very least, he will try to find a storefront from which his wife can sell her pies; some of her customers' favorites are lemon meringue, pecan, chocolate cream, apple berry and apple.
Eleanor Tucker is grateful for her time there.
"We want to thank everyone for all their support," she said. "It's been a real pleasure getting to know everyone and serving everyone, and we'll still be cooking with love."
As for now, the Tuckers are preparing their St. Patrick's Day corned beef dinner special at $8.25 a plate on Saturday.
But there will be tears Sunday.
David Tucker recalled how it was his dream to open a diner with his mother but she died before it became a reality. Still, he went ahead with their dream with his family by his side and made a success of it, at least until now.
But Tucker remains optimistic — and the diner's Facebook page is filled with well wishes from its fans.
"The Lord watches out for you," he said, "and if you do things right, things will come around for the better."
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3445, or firstname.lastname@example.org.