DRACUT -- It's easy to imagine a line of horse-drawn carts lined up in front of Pete's Grain on Hampson Street, picking up farm supplies for the week.
Farmers from Lowell and beyond, as far south as Boston, have been making the trek to Pete's Grain for well over 80 years to purchase food for their animals as well as mulch, loam, hay, grain, corn stalks, bows, mums and much more. There is some discussion as to how long the Neofotistos family has actually owned the supply store.
"I'm 84 and I've been here since I was a little boy," says "Steve" Stavros Neofotistos, whose father, Louis, started the business, naming it after Steve's brother Peter, who was killed in a train accident.
Steve and his wife Angie ran the store for decades before handing the operation over to son Louie and daughter Anna. Anna said her family was one of many Greek families to settle in the Dracut area in the early 1900s. Her grandfather came from Bedford and saw the potential for starting a farm.
"He originally wanted to have a big farm and a big house and a big family," says Anna. "He was a property owner and at one time he owned both sides of the street."
In fact, until the late 1970s, the Neofotistos family owned and operated several businesses on Hampson Street. Steve's brother Charlie ran a package store and brother Nick had a used auto parts store. But Pete's Grain has been a constant, serving the Hellenic farmers in the area for most of the last century. Anna
"It was just a cowpath," she says. "My poor father was just a young boy and he would have to get up early in the morning and shovel a pathway here from the house."
Pete's Grain and Pet Supply, 116 Hampson St., Dracut, open Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Q: It seems like a throwback to a simpler time but how has Pete's Grain changed over the years?
A: (Anna) "We are getting into holistic pet food. That's a big seller. We also carry the full line of Blue Seal Products and we offer small animal feed with the supplies. We have bird feed for wild and caged birds; dog collars, leashes, natural doggie treats, toys for cats and dogs. We have shavings that are used for bedding for animals. We change according to the seasons. Right now our biggest seller of course is cornstalks, pumpkins and firewood. Firewood is almost year 'round."
Q: Do you happen to know who is your longest standing customer?
A: "I'd probably have to look it up but I know we have some customers who I remember coming in when I was a little girl. We have farmers to come in for hay and grain and we have several big accounts but a lot of our customers are just backyard farmers. Just faithful customers. They're like more than just customers. They're like friends of the family. But I would say we have some accounts that must go back 50-to-75 years, probably more."
Q: What is the "must-have" item at Pete's?
A: "Oh without a doubt that would have to be my spectacular, handmade, Christmas balls. I sell about 150 of them at Christmas, along with Christmas wreaths and Christmas trees. It gets to the point where I can't even move my hands from twisting so many metal wires. But people come back year after year. They have to have my Christmas balls."
Q: How far do your customers travel to get here?
A: "We have customers from Dunstable, Berlin, Sterling, Topsfield, Ipswich, Rowley, Danvers. We have people from the Boston Flower Exchange. We are a retail distributor and we do road deliveries."
Q: Can you remember a time when business wasn't so good?
A: "That would be when the (Hellenic Farmers Bridge) was out. People had to go all the way around and although it's not that tricky, some people would just give up. That went on for about 10 years. My father went to all the selectmen's meetings trying to get them to open the bridge. We knew they were working on it, but it took forever. Even ambulances would come down the street trying to get through and they'd have to turn around. It was tough on us for a while."