The corner grocery store, where residents gather fresh produce and pick up the latest neighborhood gossip, is still a viable staple within many communities. Whether you shop there or at a larger supermarket, family-owned grocery stores continue to stand proudly in many neighborhoods.
Stemming from modest pasts, area grocers such as Gerrity’s, Fetch’s Food Store, Quinn’s Food Markets, Rossi’s Homemade Foods, Schiel’s Family Markets, and Thomas’ Food Markets are holding their own against competition from national and regional chain stores.
What sets them apart? Some say it is a combination of their small size, easier-to-find goods and produce, hometown feel, and low prices.
Gerrity’s Supermarkets, headquartered in Scranton, started in 1895 as a small butcher shop operated by William Gerrity, in West Scranton. Today, now owned by the Fasula family, Gerrity’s boasts of nine stores in Lackawanna and Luzerne Counties.
In 1948, the family business was handed down to Gerrity’s sons: Joseph, William Jr., and Thomas. Joseph kept the family business running after William moved away and Thomas passed away. In 1964, Neal Fasula was hired as a delivery boy. Fasula worked for Gerrity as a teen and throughout his college years. Following a fire, which burned the business down, Fasula returned from New York to help his mentor. The two men formed a long lasting partnership.
In 1974, Gerrity retired, leaving the business to Fasula, who expanded the small meat market into a supermarket during the 1980s. Then, in 1993, Fasula purchased two former Giant Supermarkets, one off Keyser Avenue, in Scranton, and the other on Wyoming Avenue, in Kingston.
Since then, Gerrity’s has expanded to nine locations, including Keyser Avenue, South Main Avenue, Meadow Avenue, Birney Avenue, all in Scranton; Summit Square Center, in Clarks Summit; Hanover Township Shopping Center; Wyoming Avenue, in West Pittston and Wyoming; and Union Street, in Luzerne.
During the business’s growth spurt, Fasula died, leaving his wife, Joyce, and sons, Joseph and Neal Jr., to step in and continue running the company. Joyce became both the president as well as the image of “Mom.”
At first she resisted the idea, when it was suggested by Joseph’s wife, Sandy. But, when a consulting firm supported the idea, she relented.
“They suggested marketing the fact that the company is being run by a woman,” Joseph said.
The simple sketch, which, at a quick glace, looks like anybody’s grandmother, now appears as Gerrity’s brand on every sales flyer, grocery bag, and sign.
Joseph jokingly noted that his mom says she has almost 1,000 children now, referring to the employees.
What sets Gerrity’s Supermarkets apart from the nationally-owned, chain supermarkets? Joseph believes it is the fact that there is a chef and a staff of butchers in every store.
“Breads, cakes, cookies, and other baked goods are made fresh in our stores,” he said. “We grind our meat fresh daily and even make our own sausage.”
As a local business, Gerrity’s offers more than just produce and food items. It helps out the local economy by employing nearly 1,000 people and purchasing local food and produce from Tomalis, of Pittston; Eastern Produce, of Scranton; the Covered Wagon Farm, of Wapwallopen; and Kettel Farms, of Falls. Even the contractor, Mountain Stream, of Hunlock Creek, is a local company.
“We also contribute tens of thousands of dollars in charitable donations to local organizations,” he said.
While some grocery stores have grown through the years, expanding in size and number of locations, many opted to stay small, but still play a major role within their communities.
Fetch’s Food Store
Eighty-eight years ago, Fetch’s Food Store provided much of the Wyoming Valley with delicious cuts of meat. The store with a big reputation was actually the brainchild of 16 year-old George Fetch. In 1922, he opened the doors of Fetch’s Market on the corner of West 6th Street and Wyoming Avenue, in Wyoming.
His ambitious venture has survived many hard times, such as the Great Depression and the Agnes Flood of 1972. Rising above it all, the family business has provided a livelihood for three generations of the Fetch family, with the fourth generation currently learning the ropes. George’s grandson, David Fetch, Jr., age 56, is running the store. He calls it a labor of love.
“I was born and raised in the business,” he said. “Some people enjoy golf as a hobby. I enjoy working.”
The market has switched locations through the years. In 1942, it moved into a larger store across the street from the original location. In 1982, the location on West Main Street, in Plymouth, opened and is currently the only location of Fetch’s Food Store open today.
For six years, starting in 1993, Fetch’s occupied the current Gerrity’s Supermarket location off Wyoming Avenue, in Wyoming.
David said the foundation for the market was laid by his grandfather’s experience, gained from working for Percy Brown’s, in Wilkes-Barre. This knowledge and his own recipe for smoked meats ensured his products would be a cut above the competition. Today, Fetch’s smoked meats continue to be sought out by area residents.
“We are well known for our meats and smoked meats,” he said.
As times change, and the pace of life quickens, he believes the small neighborhood grocer will always have a place within the community.
“Having a niche will help the small grocery stores thrive in the future,” he said.
Quinn’s Food Markets
Starting from humble beginnings with one corner market in Archbald, Quinn’s Market opened its doors in 1950 with Joe Quinn. In 1988, Jeff and William Krenitsky purchased the small market and expanded the business to include two other locations in Peckville and Pittston, plus a gas station and convenience store in Archbald.
In their desire to expand and reach more customers, the owners did not want to lose the hometown feel, Quinn’s Market Office Manager Tricia Lorenzetti said. Keeping the stores small and personal and offering catering services and smoked meats set them apart from the national and regional chain stores.
A “state-of-the-art smokehouse” gives Quinn’s Market a leg up on the competition, giving the market the ability to offer a high-quality selection of smoked meats, including kielbasa, a full line of smoked deli meats, and beef jerky.
The popularity of the market is not caused by tempting customers’ taste buds. According to Jeff Nicholason, manager of Quinn’s Market, in Pittston, many older customers claim it is easier to find items, check out is faster, and the wider isles add to the convenience of grocery shopping.
In an effort to be a benefit to the communities it serves, the market employs a total of 225 people, Lorenzetti said. Produce from local farms and other locally made products are purchased.
“We aim to help benefit the local economy,” she said. “The future for neighborhood grocery stores is bright if prices are kept fair.”
Rossi’s Homemade Foods
Measuring longevity in business, Rossi’s Market, in Old Forge, would be considered a youngster against the longstanding other markets. But do not dismiss it. It may be young in age, but quality of products and many other amenities set this market apart from the rest.
Rossi’s Market was founded in 1988 by Larry and Kathy Rossi and Tom and Toni Cusumano. It provides specialized and deli meats, homemade dinners for the family on the run, plus a catering service.
Within its 11 years, the market has gained such popularity that the owners needed to expand into a larger store, located on Lawrence Street, in Old Forge. High quality is its goal and having the owners working in some of the departments ensures this. The customers like knowing the owners are working within the store on a daily basis.
“When the owners work within a department, quality is assured,” Toni said. “Larry works in the meat department and Tom is in the kitchen- working to prepare cooked foods and baked goods.”
A step in providing high quality while supporting the community’s economy is taken seriously, she added. Rossi’s Market ensures product freshness by purchasing produce and chickens from local farms. During the Thanks-giving holiday season, turkeys are purchased from Pallman Farms, in Clark Summit, and pork is purchased from Hatfield, a Pennsylvania farm.
Maintaining a hometown feel to the store is important. Quinn’s often supports several area organizations, including churches and the Girl and Boy Scouts of America.
“Even the customers know one another,” Toni added. “The neighborhood grocer will thrive in the future, as long as they answer a need and are convenient.”
For generations, our small, neighborhood, grocery stores have always been a permanent part of our communities. They have made our past memorable by rubbing elbows with neighbors, and they stand for convenience today as many stop to pick up a couple of items for dinner. By spending our hard-earned dollars at local markets, we are also investing in our local economy by supporting the local farms and other businesses that supply products to these markets.
Schiel’s Family Markets
Schiel’s Family Market, Wilkes-Barre, has carved out a niche for itself by offering a delivery service, wine and spirit store, fresh bakery, and in-house smoked meats.
This family-run business opened its flagship store in 1999 off Hanover Street, in Wilkes-Barre, and a second location in 2005, off George Avenue, in Parsons. With five owners–– four brothers and sisters, plus one nephew–– the store naturally emanates a family atmosphere, said Schiel’s Plains Manager Gary Ankner.
Owners Frank, Fred, and Gary Schiel, Connie Schiel Owca, and Carleen Schiel Moleski, put in a daily appearance, often working in various departments–– helping them to learn the needs of their customers.
“I often say, it is not what I want to sell, it is what the customer wants to buy,” Ankner said.
With a focus on customer convenience, the store offers a delivery service, with up to 200 deliveries scheduled between the two stores each week. Deliveries range from parts of Kingston and Forty Fort to Plains and Wilkes-Barre.
“The Wilkes-Barre store does far more deliveries,” he said. “At the Parsons store, we average about 25 a week.”
The wine and spirit shop sets this market apart from the others, but also puts it in the same league as Wegman’s. The liquor store’s entrance is through Schiel’s Family Market, but it is run by the PA Liquor Control Board and has its own separate check out.
Schiel’s amenities also include a fresh bakery and in-house smoked meats, as well as a catering service.
The market does a lot to help the local economy. Ankner noted that between the two stores, the company employs 250-300 people. Seasonal produce, such as corn, is often purchased from local farms. Other merchandise is purchased from Associated Wholesalers, Inc. of Scranton.
Schiel’s is also very big on supporting organizations through fundraisers, such as Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which raises money to fight childhood cancer. Schiel’s has participated for the past four years and this year raised about $45,000, Ankner said.
Thinking about the future of neighborhood markets, Ankner stated that small markets will have a hard time competing with the prices offered by larger chain stores such as Walmart, but feels the neighborhood market will survive.
Thomas’ Food Markets
The history behind the naming of Thomas’ Market, originally located in Larksville, is unsure, according to Produce Director Elmer Blackwell. He said the current owners, Tom Baseski and Chris and Pam Evans purchased Thomas’ Market in 1997. At the time the market was closed, but the owners knew the little store was well known for its butcher shop and meat products. So, they decided to keep the name and hoped the reputation would live on.
Baseski and his sister, Pam, and Chris learned about the grocery business as teenagers and decided to start their own business venture as adults. Today, Thomas’ Family Markets has five locations: Shavertown, Dallas, Kingston, Hazleton, and Tunkhannock.
Striving to set itself apart from the large, grocery chain stores, Thomas’ Family Markets is focused on providing customers with value and everyday low prices on perishable items, Blackwell said.
Thomas’ aims to meet the special needs of the communities that each store serves. For example, Blackwell said the Dallas store demographic primarily consists of older residents who want to eat healthier, the Hazleton store has a growing Latino community, and college students in most areas are increasing their purchases as well. Therefore, meeting the individualized needs of each area and offering low prices on fresh produce help Thomas’ compete against the chain stores.
Its commitment to freshness, quality, and low prices keeps customers coming back. Blackwell said local farms are sought out for fresh seasonal produce and local vendors are used for other merchandise. He also noted that some products are purchased through Procacci Brothers Sales Corporation, a distributor and buying house in Philadelphia.
Thomas’ Family Markets offers even more benefits to the communities it serves by employing nearly 300 local residents, purchasing produce from local farms, and selling products to local restaurants, other local businesses, and organizations.
In keeping with community spirit, Thomas’ Family Markets holds 10-15 fundraisers a year to benefit local volunteer fire departments and other organizations.