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Making people jolly all year long

Rivernider makes hot dogs his full-time business

Amanda Gidopoulos is a regular at Dogs ’n Such, visiting proprietor Bill Rivernider several times a week. Christopher Tanguay. (click for larger version)
July 19, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Christmas may only come once a year, but Santa Claus has an eye on Southbridge all year long.

When he's not tending to elves and reindeer, Santa, also known as Bill Rivernider, watches over town from his Main Street hot dog cart, Dogs 'n Such.

"I'm doing this during the summer so I can see who's really being good out here," said Rivernider, who is also well known as the jolly guest of honor at local Christmastime functions such as the Festival of (Giving) Trees and events at Old Sturbridge Village.

After two years of selling hot dogs, sausage and pastrami sandwiches on Saturdays only, Rivernider took to Main Street full-time this spring and, despite a rainy season, has brought a constant smile to Southbridge's downtown.

"Southbridge has welcomed me openly," Rivernider said. "I wouldn't want to be in any other town."

Originally from Sturbridge, Rivernider settled in the neighboring town after marrying his wife, Celeste. Living here over the course of a 40-year career as a tractor trailer driver, Rivernider said he fell in love with the town — he even ran for a seat on the Town Council in 1994 — and though he has since moved back to Sturbridge, is still proud to call Southbridge his home.

"I love Southbridge," he said, "I really do, I'm behind Southbridge 100 percent. There's so much potential here in this town."

His own addition to the Main Street streetscape was not a hasty decision. Over his last 15 years on the road, Rivernider researched the vending business, working for a while with a construction worker friend who sold steak sandwiches out of a cart in downtown Lowell while he was laid off.

"He made more money with that cart than he did working construction," Rivernider laughed.

Once he made the decision to operate Dogs 'n Such on a full-time basis, Rivernider has become a local celebrity, serving up not only lunch to passersby — on the sidewalk and the street — but also a reliable friendly face.

Rivernider is at his post, across the street from the Post Office, every day but Sunday, rain or shine, "unless it's a real gully washer."

"I like people," Rivernider said, "I just like people, I'm a people person. I get to talk to the most interesting people, from all walks of life."

"A few of them have told me about their lives, where they've been, what they've come up into," he said. "I try to be friends with everybody."

One of those friends is Amanda Gidopoulos, a regular at Dogs 'n Such.

"I love the hot dog stand," Gidopoulos said on Friday. "Nobody else has that around town, so it's pretty cool.

"I used to come here everyday," Gidopoulos continued, saying she hadn't been there in almost a week. "I'm missing out."

"He's a great guy too," she said about Rivernider. "He's good with people."

Another regular, Ismael Malavè, said Friday that he stops at Dogs 'n Such everyday.

"It's good," Malavè said, "Southbridge needed it."

For as much fun as he has on a daily basis, Rivernider said maintaining his hobby, and retirement supplement, takes a lot of work.

Besides having to obtain and conform to the standards of State Hawker and Peddler's license, Meals and Beverages tax codes, Serve Safe certification and the town's own vending permit, Rivernider has made a considerable financial investment into the venture as well, purchasing the cart — which runs for $8,000 new — as well as two refrigerators and a storage freezer.

"It's a business, and you have to treat it like one," Rivernider said.

"I'm not going to get rich out here," he continued. "But I wasn't getting rich driving tractor trailers either."

Despite the investment, Rivernider said it is the people of Southbridge that make him look forward to setting out his folding chair along side the cart every day.

"They're all friends I haven't met yet," he said. "It's the people, that's the best part."

"My wife says, 'You still like your job?'" Rivernider said with a big Santa Claus smile. "I love my job."

Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

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