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Opinion: Goodbye to Rinaldi’s

My first dining experience at Rinaldi’s was my family’s introduction to Longmeadow. It was July 2006, and we were living in Washington, D.C. We were driving back home after a vacation in Maine and decided to stop and get acquainted with western Massachusetts. I had received a job offer to work in Springfield while we were on vacation, and I needed to give them an answer. My wife had never lived in the northeast, and I had been out to Springfield exactly twice while I lived in Boston.

After a long car ride from Maine with a cranky six-month old baby, we rolled into Longmeadow at supper time. We stopped at Rinaldi’s because it was the first restaurant we saw. I cannot remember what we had to eat, but I immediately formed the impression that this was the local hangout place. I was not wrong.

It seemed like a comfortable, well-worn shoe, a place where teenagers would have a bite to eat on a Saturday night, or a place where locals would pick up a pizza to take home. Like the bar in the TV show Cheers, a place where everyone knows your name. Maybe it wasn’t as cool and vibrant as Arnold’s, the malt shop in the TV show Happy Days which everyone wished was in their town, but Rinaldi’s was as welcoming as real life could get.

The closing of Rinaldi’s after 40 or so years is not just the end of another family business in Longmeadow; it is the finale for a restaurant that will hold a place in our memories for some time to come. A generation or two of teenagers and their families had passed through the doors of Rinaldi’s even before my family stopped there in 2006. Children whose parents needed to read the menu for them, they grew up, went to college, returned home, had their own children, and brought them into Rinaldi’s and read the menu to them.

Not many businesses can claim to have touched the lives of so many people. It is part of the human experience to wish to be remembered in some way. Being remembered is the closest we can come to achieving immortality. And as much as we know the futility of that endeavor—witness the countless markers in cemeteries for lives we know not at all—we never stop trying. The owners and staff of Rinaldi’s can take pride in the fact that they succeeded in building something that was part of the fabric of Longmeadow, something that helped to make Longmeadow feel like a comfortable place to call home.

Rinaldi’s goes in the pantheon of local establishments which cannot be replaced. Brightwood Hardware was such a business, and so is Alex’s Bagels, which lives on, stronger than ever. Restaurants and shops like these become legendary with the passage of years. There is a place in Orono, Maine called Pat’s Pizza that was a favorite of my grandparents while they were in college in the late 1930s, and of my mother a generation later. The greatest generation sat in those booths, yucking it up before heading off to fight and win a world war. I cannot go into Pat’s Pizza without feeling that there is something sacred about the place.

No doubt that is true for people who grew up with Rinaldi’s, or the now-closed Hu Ke Lau that is another hangout fondly remembered by Longmeadow High School alums.

What is that transforms a modest amount of retail space, some booths, some tables and chairs, and a little décor into a space imbued with memories, with a touch of the sacred? Surely it cannot just be the food and the service, however friendly it may be, as it surely was at Rinaldi’s. Yes, the pizza was good, but that was not all.

It is the passage of time, the consistency of always being there, that makes a local business a veritable institution. It is that quality that makes your childhood home, still in the hands of your parents and a place you may return to whenever you like, special in a way that their retirement condo in Florida will never be. Rinaldi’s, serving
Longmeadow from the long-haired disco days of the 1970s to the tech-obsessed days of the 2010s, was always there, and
now it is gone. Longmeadow bids that modest restaurant a fond farewell.

– Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow. His email address is alex.grant68@yahoo.com.