WATERTOWN — Veteran supermarket worker Anthony. J. Marra, 86, said that in his more than six decades that he’s worked on the street, he’s never had an issue involving being in a situation where he was concerned for his safety.
The area, he says, has an unfair reputation due to its low income residents and subsidized housing.
“People say, ‘I’m scared to go over there,” Mr. Marra said. “In the 68 years I’ve been there, I’ve never had an incident. I never had a problem with somebody pushing me or anything like that.”
But the scene was quite different one day in December of 1944, when a Watertown Daily Times headline read, “200 Women Riot in Food Market.”
The situation occurred at Loblaw’s, 303 State St., during rationing related to World War II. The melee resulted in the loss of between 50 and 60 pounds of sugar strewn over the store’s floor and it stripped the store’s weekly supply of butter, store manager William R. Navarra told the Times. He said the cutomers “were out of control” for two hours.
“I never saw anything like it in my life,” Mr. Navarra told a reporter. “The profanity among the women at the height of the riot was appalling. They rushed around the store, grabbing butter and sugar without regard for anyone.”
The Times reported that, “It all began quite simply.”
A customer asked a wholesale firm’s agent, who happened to be in the store making a coffee order, where the butter was.
“The representative told his questioner that he believed it was kept up toward the front of the store,” the Times reported. “But she failed to heed his information and suddenly made a dash for the storeroom directly behind the main part of the store.”
From there, the customer, to the aghast of other shoppers, proudly emerged carrying a pound of butter in each hand.
“That set off the riot,” the Times said.
A rush of rationing-afflicted women ensued. They rushed to the front storeroom, perhaps with visions of fresh, buttery biscuits and excessive holiday pie crusts.
“They raided the sugar supply as well as the butter,” the Times reported. “They opened the store’s large cooler and began pulling butter out of it, disregarding the manager’s warning that only a half pound could be sold to each customer.”
“There were over 200 persons crowded into the store and about three-fourths of them were not our regular customers,” Mr. Navarra said. “They were strangers to me and my clerks.”
Butter was jammed into pockets (not recommended) and customers wrestled it from one another.
“I saw one woman trying to get some of the sugar,” Mr. Navarra said. “As she leaned over to pick up a package, another woman came up behind her and gave her a vigorous push. The force of the shove hurled the woman into a crate of eggs and soon 15 dozen eggs were broken all over the floor.” He saw another customer “slap another, knocking off her glasses.”
Despite the scuffles, no one was injured. Mr. Navarra believed all the sugar was paid for but he doubted all of the butter was paid for.
“It was nearly two hours before the crowd subsided and the store returned to normal and more peaceful marketing procedures,” the Times reported.