What do you do if your mother forgets her hearing aid and your father forgets his teeth after a visit? Or you have an extremely valuable antique that you have to ship overseas?
If you live in Arlington, the answer is simple – you head right over to Don Dickerson at Arlington Package Express and he’ll sort it all out for you.
Since 1986, the owner of the Mass Ave business has been packaging, mailing and renting mail boxes for customers. Arlington Packing Express also sells lottery tickets and offers a copier, fax machine and Western Union service. But above the services Dickerson offers, it’s his diligent care of others’ correspondence and packages that keeps his customers coming back.
“We love Don!” wrote the resident on the Arlington mailing list. A few years ago she cleaned up her guest room and discovered that her parents had left behind an expensive hearing aid and a set of false teeth.
“Don handled the packing of these precious body parts with expertise, economy and humor,” she explained. “Partially because of that incident, my parents started calling Arlington ‘Ozzie-and-Harrietville,' which I was sure to put in their obituaries when they died shortly thereafter.”
Dickerson has a method for determining if an item is packaged properly. He takes the box and gently shakes it. If he can hear anything moving, he knows the item will not be safe in transit.
“You’d be amazed by the things people ship,” Dickerson said. “I’ve sent out stuff worth $20,000 – paintings, electronics, everything you can think of.”
It’s Dickerson's pleasure to help his customers with all of their shipping needs. He makes it his business to ensure all packages leaving his store will arrive on time to their final destinations, safe and in one piece.
“I’ll do anything for people within reason,” Dickerson said. “If someone comes in here with something that’s valuable to them and I don’t think it’s packaged right, I offer to do it.”
If a customer turns down his offer, Dickinson refuses to ship the item.
“There’s no reason to ship something if it’s just going to be broken,” he said. “Carriers don’t put a dollar value on sentiment. I want to see that every item is packed properly so my customers can sleep at night.”
Although he lived in Arlington in the 1970's and 80's, Dickerson moved to Haverhill where he now commutes thirty minutes each way to his store.
“I love running my store,” he said. “It’s a clean business and I get to chat with a lot of nice people.”
Dickerson said that one of the most enjoyable aspects of having his store in Arlington for so many years is watching neighborhood kids grow up.
“I start by tearing off a piece of bubble wrap and tell them to stomp on it,” he said, showing the photographs taped to the cash register of the children who have become "regulars" at his store, along with their parents. “Soon after, they graduate to the lollipops and know exactly where to find them.”
In fact, to protect his young visitors, Dickerson “child-proofed” the store.
“I used to sell greeting cards and other items that were on racks,” he said. “But I removed them because it would have been so easy for a child to get hurt, touching things and then having a rack fall on them.”
Dickerson's extra efforts have not gone unnoticed. Other customers on the have praised his involvement in local recycling efforts. In the past, Dickerson has accepted broken-down recyclable Styrofoam from packages customers have received at home. Dickerson also ships unused packing materials back to UPS so that they will not go to waste.
Some day, Dickerson joked, he hopes to win the lottery, close the shop and start a business called Rent-a-Friend.
“There are so many nice people out there,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be nice if you could introduce a nice person to another nice person and see everyone with the kind of friend they need?”