By now, you’re familiar with the Sav-Mor signs—both the salty, sentient one that towers over McGrath Highway and its smaller but equally sassy sibling on Mystic Valley Parkway in Medford. They’re known for making deadpan proclamations like, “Ask us about our baby shower registry,” “Free receipt with any purchase,” and, last fall, “We sell lots of pumpkin crap.” They’re not afraid to pick a fight; one holiday season, they banned Blitzen from the store. (“He knows why.”)
And their legacy reaches far beyond Somerville. Thanks to a war with the McDonald’s sign on McGrath that made national headlines last year, the duo eventually landed everywhere from Fast Company to USA Today.
So perhaps we should’ve realized that if we asked the guy behind the slogans to tell us about the sign’s history, we were going to get a joke. “Well, in Civil War times, the Confederacy… no, that’s not true,” a grinning Robbie Weiner admits.
Here’s the real story: Weiner’s grandfather bought the Medford shop in the late ’60s. His dad and uncle eventually took over the business and oversee all four locations today. Weiner’s been at Sav-Mor for a little over a decade.
And the sign? Well… it just came with the business.
“I never really thought about the sign,” Weiner says. But one day, when whatever promotion stopped running and the sale came down, he just kind of went for it. “I’m not 100 percent sure what [the first one] was. I think it was, ‘Holidays mean family, we sell liquor.’” (That one’s a recurring holiday classic, along with “Valentine’s Day, blah blah blah, drink.”)
It’s a bit ironic, because Sav-Mor is still very much a family business today. Weiner runs the show alongside his dad, uncle and cousin. “I think that’s the best part of the job, working with my family,” he says. He actually came back to the area after spending some time on the West Coast because he wanted to be around his nieces and nephews, and he says the stores treat employees—some of whom have been around for 15 years—like family, too.
But people loved that first slogan, so Sav-Mor has pretty much stopped using its sign to advertise sales and new items altogether and exclusively promotes with jokes. Which is just fine by Weiner, who has an improv background and was a member of LA Theatresports—whose alums include Wayne Brady, Brad Sherwood and Mike McShane of Who’s Line is it Anyway fame—when he lived out on the left coast. “I love comedy, I love the philosophy of it, the … sort of science of it, although I guess it’s not a science,” he says. “The meta version of it—where it comes from, what makes people laugh, the history of it.” He’s always trying to think of new sign gags, though occasionally there’s a repeat.
Weiner laughs that he’s really a little more of a head-down, behind-the-scenes guy. He’s much happier out of the spotlight, and during the day, you’ll mostly find him at his computer in an upstairs office. Yes, that’s right—Sav Mor’s loudest voice comes from one of its quietest workers.
But hey, who knows? Maybe someday he can parlay that slogan writing into a full-time gig and ditch the desktop forever.
“Yeah,” he says, characteristically sarcastic, “I keep waiting for someone to just send me a giant check.”
This story appears in the September/October print issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.