By Jim Shulman
A special treat in the 1950s, even on a cold winter day, was a hot fudge sundae, and the very best could be found at Pittsfield’s Model Dairy at 27 Ontario St.
Even in the 1960s, a hot fudge sundae was still a quarter while a sugar cone with a huge scoop was only a dime.
My first memory of Model Dairy was on a Hibbard School kindergarten outing to the nearby plant, where we got to see ice cream being made and taste a fresh batch.
Our family also had bottles of milk delivered daily from the dairy back then. My very last experience of Model Dairy was in 1964 when I worked for the company. I peddled ice cream treats from their 1940 “Yum Yum Truck” and also delivered milk to summer camps.
Model Dairy was started at the Ontario Street location in 1921 by Jacob North, of Pittsfield. North began with a horse and wagon and delivered milk bought from local farmers and bottled at this location. In 1931, North sold the dairy to four brothers who came to this country from Riga, Latvia as teenagers in the early 1900s.
Philip, Hyman, Morris and Joseph Reder had settled in New Jersey, where their first jobs were peddling milk for a cousin who owned a farm. The siblings decided that running a dairy would be their destiny.
In the 1920s the Reders bought, operated and then sold a couple of dairies in New Jersey, which gave them both experience and financial ability to buy Model Dairy in 1931. They also acquired and operated a dairy farm in North Adams with over 100 head of cattle. A severe fire in 1946 wiped out more than half of their herd. By 1950 they were largely purchasing milk from other farms and thus phased out their own farming.
In 1949, the Reders had tripled the size of their Ontario Street facility, adding 2,500 square feet for a modern plant to pasteurize and bottle milk and to make ice cream. The new building also could serve customers with its retail shop and a 27-seat ice cream parlor. Model Dairy quickly became a popular destination for families and for teens as a reasonable place to bring dates. In 1951, the ice cream business had become so successful that Model Dairy sold off its milk routes and equipment to Bennington’s Fairdale Farms Dairy. Joseph Reder’s son, Gerard (Jerry) Reder, joined the family business after college, and being a sharp salesman, gave the business a boost.
In the summer, the ice cream parlor had busloads of campers come weekly from many of the 30 Berkshire camps. The Reders also delivered Boston’s Hood Dairy milk products daily to these camps. In the 1960s, Model Dairy had stopped production of its own ice cream and began to sell Howard Johnson’s ice cream both at the parlor and wholesale to stores.
In the mid- to late 1950s, Friendly Ice Cream Co. came to the Berkshires. With many locations and a larger food menu, Friendly’s took away much of Model Dairy’s clientele. However with Jerry now as general manager, the company had developed a strong wholesale ice cream distribution business throughout a multi-state region. However, as the Reder Brothers were past retirement age and Jerry successfully initiated Berkshire Armored Car Services, Model Dairy slowly came to an end.
By 1967, the business was closed and the Ontario Street building was sold to Isgood Realty, which converted the facility into offices and leased it to USF&G Insurance Co. in 1969. The building now houses Smith Electric and a healing arts practice.
Model Dairy has been gone for over 50 years. But to this day Baby Boomers still talk about their dates at the parlor and those great hot fudge sundaes.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the author of “Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield.” If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark, business or event you’d like to share or read about, please write Jim at [email protected]
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