Novelist Ernest Hemingway writing about a happy man wrote, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived, and how he died that distinguishes one man from another.” We’ve heard much about the life and death of Andres “Cholo” Cruz since his ghastly murder to merit his own heroic Hemingway narrative. Media outlets recounted many personal accounts about our treasured local merchant and the void created with his passing. To me, American hero perfectly describes our small town hardware man. Selflessness in helping others is the common thread contained within the columns of ink written about Cholo since he was viciously taken from us on July 18.
Cholo hailed from the El Guano barrio of Yabucoa in southeastern Puerto Rico. With a reputation where hard-nosed and square dealing men are admired and frivolousness is not tolerated, Cruz personified his homestead’s focus on hard work and family first. It was to assist his large extended family, which brought him to Boston, but fulfilling his own American dream is what made him stay. Purchasing the former True Value hardware store generated such enormous pride for him that he labeled his ferreteria with his initials, AC.
With Cholo, customer satisfaction was so important that it was not uncommon for him to close up shop for 15 minutes in the middle of the day to observe a homeowner’s problem first-hand and recommend the proper solution or to drill out a damaged door lock. Unable to pay for something up front, he’d extend credit to his customers without interest by inking the debt in his little notebook behind the counter. Try doing that at Lowe’s or Home Depot! A sincere smile and genuine good humor greeted you as you entered this cozy subterranean warren of tools and products. Cholo wanted to solve your problem and if he couldn’t, he’d point you to someplace that could. Attentive service like that inspires loyalty and Mission Hill provided it back to AC Hardware.
This community gathering spot on a par with Mike’s Donut Shop always featured Andres with a broom clenched in this hand keeping his area clean. Unceasing banter from his pal and next door insurance man Mike Spinney enlivened the air with humor. Early one month ago, Cholo called me to report that overnight some clowns ripped out the pink petunias from five of the flower pots along Tremont Street. We griped together for a few minutes about this miniature provocation of urban life, which then evolved into a riot of laughter, brotherhood, and silliness. Most often this is what occurred whenever I visited the corner of Tremont and Saint Alphonsus. This is the picture I will forever hold and cherish of Andres Cruz in my mind’s eye.
Thus it was not a difficult choice for Mission Hill Main Streets to confer its 2017 Business of the Year designation on AC Hardware. However, learning that Mayor Marty Walsh chose his shop as the first such business to be receiving the award at its neighborhood place of business superimposed a look of satisfaction upon Cholo’s face that I hadn’t expected. He was truly moved by the honor which was apparent throughout the festivities by anyone in attendance that day. Cruz proudly gave the mayor the full tour of the store even to his cherished domino table way in the back room where Cholo’s cronies assemble for relaxation and laughter.
At the conclusion of the mayoral honors ceremony on June 28, I introduced Andres to another of the day’s honorees, Maverick Construction owner Mike McNally who accepted a plaque from Main Streets for donating the installation of the snowflake lighting atop the light poles along Tremont Street each Christmas. The three of us along with Mission Hill restauranteur Michel Soltani watched as Cholo’s buddies uncovered cages filled with multi-colored doves to the applause of the assembled amigos. Cholo confessed that his buddies breed, train and race homing pigeons in their spare hours and we raised a toast scrutinizing these feathered acrobats as they soared about the stately spires of the Mission Basilica. On July 24, Father Joseph Tizio’s moving call for peace during the eulogy evoked those same birds of peace of Cholo’s indulgence while accounting his kindness and generosity to others. Though his time amongst us has ceased, the details of how he lived his life will distinguish him forever on Mission Hill. Requiescat in pace.