For more than 30 years, the nostalgic image of kids working their paper routes has been a reality in Dorchester: Each week the Reporter is distributed by local kids to their customers around the neighborhood. It’s a reminder of the way things used to be on a massive scale, and a welcome small job for Dorchester youth in 2023.
The operation is based on Mary O’Brien’s front porch, where kids and parents have been picking up papers to deliver since the early 1990s. The pickups continue today as the routes have been passed down to later generations of carriers.
“It hasn’t been a profitable thing by any stretch because some people forget to pay and some carriers forget to collect, but it’s always interesting to see how it pans out and overall it’s a great learning experience for the kids,” said O’Brien, a BPS teacher who noted that kids she worked with have gone on to be firefighters and police officers and that some of her colleagues at BPS had Reporter paper routes when they were younger. “But one thing has never changed: the price – it’s still 50 cents.”
O’Brien said she was working on freelance projects for the Reporter in the early 1990s for the paper’s co-founder, Ed Forry, when they began to discuss setting up paper routes and employing local kids.
“Things materialized and I started having the paper delivered to my front porch on Thursdays (now it comes on Wednesdays), and I always ask kids around the neighborhood if they want to deliver a paper route,” she said, estimating that more than 60 young carriers have had routes since she started the porch-based operation.
One of those youthful workers, now 40 years old, is Christina (Redmond) Myers, who delivered the Reporter with her brother Nick some 30 years ago along a route bordered by Lenoxdale Avenue and Belton Street in the St. Brendan’s area.
“My parents were big about trying to own your own business and that was a little small business we could have, and it was good for a few bucks as a little kid,” Myers said. “It was nice to have a little money in your pocket for the snack bar without having to ask your parents.”
Now, coming full circle, her children – Cam, 11, and Mia, 9 – handle the same paper route, making their way to O’Brien’s porch before delivering the paper to 10 customers. That second-generation employment situation started with a phone call from her parents.
“They called me to ask if my kids would be interested in the route,” Myers said. “I laughed when I found out that everyone still picks up the paper from Mary O’Brien’s front porch. She is someone who is always trying to create good things for the kids. That’s how I started and how my kids started…and my parents have been faithful Reporter customers for a very long time.”
O’Brien has had kids working routes in St. Brendan’s, Melville Park, Savin Hill, Gallivan Boulevard, and the Lonsdale Street area, among others. They pay her 25 cents for the paper and then charge their customers 50 cents. She noted that that process encourages the carriers to keep good records and to be organized.
“They learned that if they collected every month instead of every week, they might get a $5 bill. That was a big deal a long time ago,” she said with a laugh.
Though the popularity of the routes has waned over time, O’Brien said there was a time when kids were hungry for a route and would wait years to get their own. Some kids, she added, would pass their routes down to family members, creating a delivery dynasty for larger families.
She noted that the Whelan girls, the Nee family, the Doyle family, and even former state Rep. Dan Cullinane were among the latter group, and she elaborated on a major “deal” between the Doyles and the Nees years ago.
“Frankie Doyle was a businessman with a large route and Nolan Nee was anxious to get a route. I told him that Frankie had all the streets around him and he should to talk to him. So, they did, and Frankie gave half his route to Nolan Nee and passed down the other half to his siblings. That’s how the Nee family got started on their route and those kids passed it down in the family, too.”
For Myers, having her kids as carriers has been enjoyable – something from her childhood like youth hockey, Little League, and the best ice cream spots that she can share with them.
“I grew up on Rockne Avenue and we are now on Crockett Street, the next one over,” she said. “The people I grew up with and my cousins all have kids the same age. To have my kids live in Dorchester and do all the same things we did is great. I’m happy they’re growing up the same way I did,” paper route and all.