Fitchburg’s Place Martel pays homage to music store owner and car collector

FITCHBURG — The intersection of Main and North streets in downtown Fitchburg will forever be linked to one of the city’s best-known residents and business owners.

On June 1, it was named Place Gerry Martel in honor of Gérard “Gerry” Martel, who died in February 2019 at the age of 91. It’s known as much for its wide-brimmed glasses and outgoing personality as it is for being a longtime music store. owner, drummer, joke writer, car collector and appraiser, and supporter of his adopted hometown.

“Gerry was someone who was just larger than life,” said state representative (and former city councilman) Michael Kushmerek. “And I think everyone who lived in Fitchburg knew Gerry, if not by name, at least by the car he drove or the suits he wore, or the jokes he told.”

Before there was a CVS Pharmacy at the corner of Main and North streets, it was the home of the Fitchburg Music Store, which Martel purchased in 1957 a day before it went bankrupt.

Martel grew up in Gardner, served in the United States Navy, and graduated from College of the Holy Cross in Worcester in 1949. He moved to Fitchburg about three years after writing jokes for television pioneer Arthur Godfrey and playing drumming in numerous bands, including with influential jazz drummer Buddy Rich, in New York.

Martel turned the store into a Main Street staple for decades, until it closed in the late 1990s.

“It was a bustling place for 50 years,” Martel’s widow, Nadine “Toddy” Martel, told Fitchburg Access Television. “People came for lessons, they bought instruments, they worked here and they just hung out. People know this place everywhere.

Kushmerek said people he introduced to at State House when he first became a state representative “knew about Fitchburg for one of three reasons: Fitchburg State University Fitchburg, the Fitchburg Museum of Art, or that awesome record store around the corner near Fitchburg State. .

Gerry Martel, left, is seen in this 2015 photo outside the Fay Club in Fitchburg, one of the groups he has supported over the years.

“I can’t tell you how many reps came to Fitchburg for the first time and kept coming to Fitchburg because of the record store,” Kushmerek added. “It gave a whole new perspective on who Fitchburg was and what Fitchburg had to offer. They wouldn’t have been here without him, and once they came they couldn’t help but come back. .

Just as strong as Martel’s love for music was his passion for classic cars. He owned about 120 vehicles in his lifetime, including a 1958 Bentley Continental Flying Spur that once belonged to film and television director Alfred Hitchcock. Martel ran a custom body shop called SCAR CARS, which stood for Sports Classic Antique Restorations. This then turned into a second career as a licensed collector’s car appraiser.

Around Fitchburg, Martel was known as “Mr. Car,” “The Professor,” and “Mr. Fitchburg.” His desire to give back to the community was seen all over the city he called home. Martel was president of the Rotary Club of Fitchburg in 1968 (for the chapter’s 50th anniversary) and honorary president in 2018 (for its 100th anniversary). He has supported and belonged to many organizations, from the Fay Club and Fitchburg Art Museum to the Finnish Center at Saima Park and the Advisory Council of the Regional Technical School of Montachusett.

“Gerry embodied a generation of individuals who served their city and community,” Kushmerek said. “Behind everything in this town, you found a Martell, be it Toddy, Nadine or Gerry. Every great institution, every act of community service, their name was associated with it in our city.

The driving force behind Gerry Martel Square’s nomination was Joe Byrne, who called Martel “my best friend.” Byrne, his wife Linda, Kushmerek and councilwoman Amy Green signed the petition asking the city council to rename the intersection.

Toddy Martel told FATV that naming her husband’s former store location for him was “very fitting”.

“We are very proud and the whole family appreciates all the work that has been done for this,” she added. “We are very happy that this is happening.”

Alice P. Darby