Jim Stacchi and Sally McCabe at home in July 2013.   Jim Stacchi and Sally McCabe share a moment at home.

Last year, amid the aisles of chicken tikka masala and Omega Trek Mix, love came to Trader Joe’s.

Jim Stacchi, in his 60s, divorced and admittedly overweight, would come into the Arlington Heights store on a daily basis to shop and chat with the friendly sales associates. But once Sally McCabe joined the staff, Stacchi found himself gravitating toward the back corner when she was in charge of serving samples or go to her register when she was a cashier.

“We have customers whose schedule we practically know,” says Sally, 68. “They come in once a week at a particular time, or others may come in several times a week. Jim was one of those.”

Once Sally came on board, “I sometimes came in several times a day,” Jim remembers.

None of this struck Sally as odd because Jim was friendly with everybody. “Most of the people there knew Jim by face if not by name,” she says. “He’s one of the customers we always look forward to seeing because they’re always friendly and nice. You look forward to customers like that; it makes your day.”

He showed up more often

Jim’s visits grew even more frequent. “If I came in during the morning and Sally wasn’t there I’d come back later in the day. One of the cashiers would say, ‘Are you back again?’ and I’d say, ‘Yeah, I forgot something.’ I was acting like a teenager … I would have liked to ask her out, but at my age, I had forgotten how to do things like that.”

Jim and Sally would talk about well, everything. Sally, too, was divorced. Both are the parents of grown children, and each has three grandchildren. Sometimes they would talk about health and exercise since Jim, a diabetic, was trying hard to lose weight and Sally is an avid walker.

“If a customer starts talking about something like they’re on a diet, then we know it’s OK to talk to them about it,” she says.

“I also knew I could kid around with him. One time he came to my cash register, and if the customer changes his mind. we say there’s a ‘go-back’ and call for someone to put it back on the shelf. I would go through his basket and kiddingly say, ‘That’s a go-back’ when it was something not on his diet.”

The two compared likes and dislikes, talked about family and living in Arlington. “Our conversations started to be personal,” says Jim. “She remembered things we had talked about; it could be little things and she always remembered them and I thought, I’m making an impression on her, which is kind of a nice feeling.”

A birthday chat

Last Aug. 8, he and Sally were chatting, as usual, and someone in the store somehow knew it was Jim’s birthday. As Jim left the store, Sally thought he deserved a bouquet, something Trader Joe’s presents to customers on occasion, though more often if someone is sick or is having a hard time.

“But we do it for happy things too,” she says, “so I quickly went over to one of my bosses, and I said, ‘It’s Jim’s 70th birthday. Can we give him flowers?’

“And my boss said yes. By the time the conversation was finished, Jim had left the store. He checked out faster than I thought he would, and I didn’t think I could catch up with him, so I handed the bouquet to one of the young guys working near me and said, ‘It’s Jim’s birthday; can you give him these flowers?’ He was supposed to say, ‘Happy Birthday from Trader Joe’s.’”

Instead, the young co-worker, racing to catch up with Jim, handed him the flowers and said, “Happy Birthday. These are from Sally.”

Says Jim, “The thing that flashed through my mind was, if she can send me flowers, maybe we could go out for a cup of coffee, anything.

“He turned right around, came back in, and asked if he could join her on one of her walks. She said she was going the next morning; Jim pointed out it was supposed to rain.

“I don’t melt,” was Sally’s answer, so the two made their first walk together in the rain.
Jim brought an umbrella and they walked to Arlington High School and back, then to Starbucks for a cup of coffee.

“We continued talking, and we’ve never stopped,” says Jim.

Walking and talking ...

The two walk regularly together now, and Jim has lost 60 pounds and has been able to cut back on his diabetes medication. They walk in state parks, or around Horn Pond in Woburn. In Arlington, they’ll walk around Spy Pond or simply pick side streets off Mass. Ave. and explore and look at houses. In the winter they don warm clothing and walk around the track at Arlington High School. When he is not walking, Jim is a volunteer driver for the Bedford VA.

“Walking is easy when you have someone to talk to. We never run out of things to talk about,” says Jim.

The two, who live in Arlington, will be married on Aug. 18 in Woburn.

“She’s given me a gift of something I never dreamed would happen in my life,” says Jim.

“It goes two ways,” says Sally.

This story was published Tuesday, July 16, 2013.