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Someone Please Give the ‘Live Poultry Fresh Killed’ Sign a Good Home

East Cambridge will never be the same without it

One-story storefront in a brick building with signage that reads “Mayflower Poultry” and “Live Poultry Fresh Killed.” A large pile of dirty snow is in front of the store.
Mayflower Poultry’s Inman Square storefront, photographed in 2008.
Tim Bean/Flickr (Creative Commons)

As time marches on and neighborhoods change, we say goodbye to the things we love over and over again — the restaurants, that one skinny tree that used to grow in the parking lot of the antique store before construction gobbled it up, the iconic signage.

In East Cambridge, not far from Inman Square, there is no sign more iconic than that of poultry and meat market and wholesaler Mayflower Poultry. For over 75 years, the sign has aggressively advertised the shop’s “live poultry” that is “fresh killed” with bold black letters (in several different fonts) over a bright yellow silhouette of a chicken. (Live poultry hasn’t actually been processed onsite in many years, but the sign has lived on, delighting some and angering others.)

The sign’s time has come. Mayflower Poultry is moving on from its longtime home — the property at 621 Cambridge St. has been sold, and the sign is going up for auction August 26, owner Jim Gould told the Cambridge Chronicle-Tab. Its design, trademarked since 2005, will be included in the sale, so the buyer can slap it on whatever merchandise their heart desires. (Want to grab some of Mayflower’s own merch before the trademark gets sold? There are shirts, hats, and aprons for sale online with that distinctive logo.) Gould reportedly plans to direct 10% of the proceeds to local nonprofit Food For Free, a Cambridge-based food rescue organization. Auctioneer Paul E. Saperstein Co. will also donate 20% of the buyer premium to the same group.

While Gould told the Chronicle-Tab that he’s attempted to buy the property over the years, offering a million and later two million, the price ended up approaching five million. It would take a lot of “Live Poultry Fresh Killed” t-shirt sales to make that work. It’s not the end for Mayflower Poultry, though, which is almost entirely a wholesale business these days; Gould will reportedly sublet space inside the Boston Meat Market off Route 93.

Here’s a look at what may become of the building on Cambridge Street, which has been on the National Historic Register for almost 40 years thanks to its past as the Union Railway Car Barn, dating back to 1862. Take a look at page seven for a decidedly modern renovation of the facade. Because of the building’s historic status, the Cambridge Historical Commission will have to approve the plans, which will be discussed at an August 5 meeting that is open to the public.

Interested parties should start saving up for the auction, which will welcome both online and onsite bidding. Perhaps the sign can find a home next to one of Boston’s other famous chicken signs, the flapping neon chicken from Fontaine’s in West Roxbury, which was displayed on the Greenway a few years back.

Update, 2:40 p.m.: This piece has been updated to more accurately describe Mayflower’s current location as East Cambridge, near Inman Square, not in Inman Square.

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