A Lifetime Selling Meat

GLOVERSVILLE – John Franco remembers the days when a delivery of chickens to Bowman’s Market meant he’d be plucking some feathers.

“I remember the guy backing the truck in with fresh chickens on and throwing the boxes off into the driveway and killing chickens,” Franco said. “When I was a kid, they used to let them run around in the yard, and then they’d throw them down in the cellar and take the feathers off them. I remember the mess, which we don’t have now. It’s all done at the plants now.”

This year marks 50 years since Franco began working full time at Bowman’s Market. In 1964, he had just graduated from Cobleskill Community College with an associate’s degree in business administration when his father, Jim Franco, purchased Bowman’s Market from Steve Bowman. He said he and his father had already been working at the store for years before the purchase. John Franco knew he wanted to remain there.

“My father always made a joke that I was going to be an astronaut because I took up space. Except for two weeks, when I was a paper boy for the Leader, I’ve always worked here,” John Franco said.

The look of the market hasn’t changed much in decades, but it has changed from the early days of the Franco family’s ownership of it. Franco said he can still remember sweeping up the sawdust the family used to keep on the floor to soak up the grease from the meat.

“Now everything comes in boxes, but back then, in came in as ‘swinging beef.’ You’d have to break it down into the different cuts,” he said. “You’d get a hind-quarter end, where you get your steaks and your rounds. It was the whole cattle basically. It was a lot harder. The thing would weigh 200 pounds, and you’d be hauling that around.”

Franco said for years he employed a butcher named Antimo Memo Gazzillo to break down his meats. He said these days, all the meat comes in broken-down cuts already, most of it boneless, and the only use for his 50-year-old bone saw is cutting up T-bone steaks and dog bones.

“Back then, we had maybe three butchers and I was doing mostly a delivery guy and a stock clerk. Today, you could train somebody to be a butcher in two days,” he said. “Things changed when we started getting the boxed beef at the end of the ’60s.”

Some things haven’t changed, like the market’s more than 90- year-old cash register. When the register breaks down, Bowman’s goes to Derby Office Equipment for parts to keep it working.

“It still works. We have an electronic one too, but we just don’t like it. Eventually, we’ll be forced into using it,” he said.

Another change came to the business when Bowman’s began accepting credit cards about seven years ago.

“We resisted it for a long time. We got forced into it, more or less, but it turned out to be a good thing because people used to come in with no cash and they’d turn around and leave. People just don’t carry money anymore,” he said.

The neighborhood around Bowman’s Market has changed. There used to be a four-unit apartment building across the street from the market, but it was torn down.

Franco said his customer base has remained steady over the years, and one of the reasons has been the business’s commitment to free home delivery of meat and groceries.

“Service is the key. We put the order in the car for people, that kind of thing,” he said.

Franco acquired the business from his parents in the late 1990s. His mother, Lucy, worked for the business, keeping the books, until she was 90 in 2008. His father worked there too, even long after selling the business. They died in 2010, 12 days apart from each other.

John Franco’s son Eddie Franco became a partner in the business in 2008.

“I’m not a big fan of corporate America,” Eddie Franco said. “I like things the way they used to be. I think big business is bringing everybody down.”