Published: 4/22/2022 5:15:09 PM
Modified: 4/22/2022 5:13:53 PM
TURNERS FALLS — You’d think someone with a name like “Chuck Hamberg” would have beef with his job, having worked in grocery store meat departments for more than four decades while dealing with people’s quips. The seasoned Hamberg, however, has treated these jokes as a reminder that this career has been his calling.
Friday marked Hamberg’s last day working at Food City on Avenue A, where he has served behind the meat counter for 27 years. While some might perceive such a job as being mundane, the 62-year-old Athol resident, who has spent 47 years working in grocery stores and 42 in meat departments, “took it personal.” Reminiscing, Hamberg spoke fondly of people he’d met, coworkers he’d bonded with and an industry he found “very educational” as he approached retirement.
The magic of the job, Hamberg said, started with the boxes of meat he’d be delivered. He’d be eager to tear open the packaging and think about the context of its contents, such as how well-fed or how otherwise unique the butchered animal was.
“Meat is like people,” Hamberg said. “No two pieces are the same.”
The length of his career, he said, also allowed him to watch the industry evolve, which fascinated him. He recalled beginning his work in the 1970s with “sawdust on the floor” and “carcasses in the back” before the industry adopted improved cleaning regulations and more modern meat-packaging practices.
“We’ve gone from being butchers, if you will, to slicing,” he said.
He also observed shifts in public preference over the years, such as a “rise in popularity of chicken products and turkey products” as people began favoring leaner, healthier meat products.
Hamberg said he “busted his butt” to vary the meat selection at Food City throughout his career, noting that customers would come from outside the county just to pick from his stock. He said his efforts ramped up even more during the COVID-19 pandemic as people turned to food for comfort and security.
“We were going to work every single day providing customers with food and making sure there was food in their refrigerators and freezers,” Hamberg said. “The food store became a very vital part of sustenance and surviving.”
Hamberg recognized that his role also opened opportunities for him to reach people with more than just his products. In particular, he said, there is a “camaraderie about the meat department” between patrons and employees, who he said were “wonderful people” who “inspired” and “educated” him.
“The people are always good,” Hamberg said. “You meet a lot of people.”
Jonathan Steiner, who has worked at Food City for 28 years and served as manager for 12, said Hamberg’s time serving the store “has been exceptional” and that he will be “greatly missed” after hanging up his apron one last time.
“We’re excited to see that he’s able to meet retirement and enjoy some time with his family,” Steiner said. “We were grateful to have him as a manager of the department for as long as we’ve had him.”
Hamberg’s decision to retire resulted from “a combination of things,” including recent health issues and deaths of loved ones “that got (him) starting to think about (his) own mortality.” Hamberg said he looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren, volunteering more at the Franklin First Federal Credit Union, doing church work and participating in the Red Knights International Motorcycle Club.
“I don’t think I have time to work anymore!” he said.
Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or [email protected].