Holliston’s Real-Life “Candy Man”

John Drohan
Willy Wonka might be coming to Holliston this month at the Robert Adams Middle School, but Holliston has a candy man of its own in John Paltrineri.
Issue Date: 
April, 2018
Article Body: 

Since first visiting Holliston over 30 years ago, I was captivated by the large, square 2-story building that anchors the corner of Washington and Central Street. Since 1863, this property has been the true cornerstone of our community as the home of the living landmark known as Fiske’s General Store. It goes well beyond the classic New England general store menu of selling a wide variety of items as the sign above the main window says, “most everything,” which is not an understatement. For generations, Fiske’s has provided everything from paint brushes to Thinking Putty, candles to Cabbage Patch Dolls and balloons to baseball cards. Yet were you to ask any child, of any age, who has ever been in the store what they think of when they think of Fiske’s?
It’s the candy.
In true throwback spirit of “candyship,” Fiske’s has always provided a bountiful assortment of common and rare candy of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps one of the most commonly overheard statements is a parent saying, “OK, you can get ONE thing today,” in an effort to both create some temporary peace and suppress the frenzy of candy-excitement that fills every child when they enter the store. Yet, as famous as the institution is, its proprietor’s fame and recognition has surpassed even that of his store. This is (of course) none other than John Paltrineri, Holliston’s very own candy man.
On the eve of the Middle School’s presentation of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka on April 6-8, it seemed only fitting that we acknowledge our very own true-to-life version of this wonderful story. Since taking over the store from his father in 1989, John has not only perpetuated Fiske’s legacy, but exponentially grown it. In the wake of large corporate chain stores and online shopping, Fiske’s has continued to provide something that the big guys can’t replicate. As delicious as the candy may taste, it is the experience of Fiske’s that separates John Paltrineri from the others. Just like Gene Wilder in the 1971 Paramount Picture film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Mr. Paltrineri’s enthusiasm for his latest gadgets or products is limitless. He will take the time to explain the story behind everything he has (be sure to set aside some time) while ALWAYS having some form of free sample to continuously ensure ultimate customer satisfaction. His meticulous precision in choosing the candy displayed on his shelves is not unlike like a bride choosing her wedding cake. He tirelessly reinvents the interior of his store just like Wonka’s factory. He has the uncanny ability to maintain the nostalgia of the store that your grandparents shopped when they were children, while recreating his patron’s experience on a daily basis. Every time you walk in, something has changed.
There are some distinct differences between Paltrineri and Wonka. In the story, Wonka is essentially a hermit whom no one has ever laid eyes on where John Paltrineri is virtually a living statue in the community. Whether he is volunteering with the Lion’s Club or organizing the annual Holiday and Spring Strolls, he is one of the most recognizable people in Holliston. A long-time volunteer, he selflessly has given back to his community throughout his lifetime. In addition, where Wonka’s main help was an army of small orange people known as Oompa Loompas, John relies on the other part of this fantastic team, his wife of nearly 40 years, Carol. For all of the credit and recognition that John receives, he passes it on to Carol who has shouldered the responsibility step for step with him with equal passion and commitment.
So, in the spirit of Willy Wonka do yourself a favor and pay a visit to Fiske’s if you need anything. For those of us who have had the pleasure of visiting with the Paltrineris, you will be reminded of that comforting feeling one always has when they stop in. If you have never been, be prepared to experience what both Willy Wonka and John Paltrineri truly believe… that the world tastes (and feels) good, because the candy man thinks it should.