By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — After 22 years operating his popular snack stand inside the post office in Washington Square, Ron Chapdelaine is closing the business to spend more time doing the things he loves.
That’s not to say he didn’t love running the little stand sponsored by the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind. He enjoyed the morning walk from his home in Bradford and opening the little business, where years ago he happened to meet the woman he married.
After lifting up the stand’s metal security curtains, he’d brew the coffee, usually New England Coffee, set out a domed tray of doughnuts and other pastries, turn on the closed circuit television he used to magnify winning Lottery scratch tickets, then would wait for his first customers to arrive.
Those early morning customers included regulars like postal clerk Thomas Colon.
“A lot of mail carriers came in early for their coffee,” Colon said. “Having Ron’s stand here was very convenient.”
When Colon heard that Chapdelaine was closing the little stand, he felt a sense of loss, especially knowing that he would no longer have a chance to chit chat with Chapdelaine and catch up with the latest news as he poured him a cup of coffee.
“He’s really going to be missed,” Colon said. “I’m really going to miss him.”
Chapdelaine, 49, was born with the same degenerative disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa, that his brother has. Both have been operating snack stands under the Commission For The Blind. If a customer didn’t know his name, they would certainly recognize his face. He’s the guy wearing a black patch over his right eye.
“I had eyeglass when I was a 2-year-old,” Chapdelaine said.
A 1989 graduate of UMass Lowell’s music business program, Chapdelaine was having a hard time finding a job in the music industry after graduating. In 1992 he inquired about the Commission’s vending facilities program, which happened to have the snack shack at the downtown post office available for bid. The little stand had been there since the 1960s and the man who ran it had moved on.
“Before I could run the stand I had to take a 12-week training program to get my state license,” Chapdelaine said.
The Commission paid the rent but he paid for everything else, including insurance and inventory.
For years he was busy selling coffee, snacks, cigarettes and Lottery tickets - one of the more interesting parts of running his own business.
“It was always exciting when someone bought a winning ticket,” he said. “I sold a few $100,000 Mass Cash tickets over the years along with a lot of smaller winning tickets.”
With limited vision, a lot of his work was done by feel, which meant keeping a neat and orderly stand where everything was in the same place every day.
Several years after opening his stand, Chapdelaine began dating one of his customers, who happened to be a postal worker.
“Denise and I have been married 15 years,” he said.
For years Chapdelaine worked 50 to 60 hours a week and was open Monday through Saturday. But he recently cut back as business began to slow and he was spending more time sitting and waiting for customers to arrive.
“I was seeing a lot less foot traffic than years ago,” he said.
Closing his little stand means opening the door to more time playing the guitar, one of his favorite past times, more time taking care of things around his home and more time traveling with his wife.
“We love going to the beach,” he said. “I’ll be taking care of our house, too. There’s always something to do.”