Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Sparkle Markets

Grocery shopping is one of those necessities of life. When I was young, I would accompany my dad every Friday night to shop at the A & P on Mahoning Avenue on the Westside. Eventually that store closed, but a Sparkle Markets store opened that was actually closer opened at the corner of Mahoning and N. Belle Vista, across from Calvary Cemetery.

By today’s standards, the store was small. In later years, especially when my dad was hospitalized on several occasions I shopped there for my mom. I could always find whatever she needed and the meat counter people were always friendly and helpful (and, of course, knew what chip-chopped ham was). Sometime after my folks sold their home, the store closed. Recently I wondered what was happening with Sparkle Markets with all the competition from Giant Eagle and the like and found they were alive and well around the Mahoning Valley, eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania, and into West Virginia with 18 stores. In 2015 they even acquired the Brookfield Giant Eagle, which is now a Sparkle store. The closest stores to Youngstown are in Cornersburg and on South Avenue.

The beginning of Sparkle Markets was in 1955 when four independent local grocers came together with the goal of being able to better compete with the national chains while providing the “neighborhood-friendly” service I experienced at our own store. They eventually joined with a similar group of Akron area grocers with the same aims and out of this came Sparkle Markets. Their goal was to be “big enough to serve you; small enough to care.”

This neighborhood grocer philosophy is captured in the chain’s iconic “Sparky,” the clean-cut, cheerful grocer, ready to serve, running a clean and sparkling store. In fact, the store owners make up the board of directors of Sparkle, with Vince Furrie, Jr., store owner of the Village Plaza Sparkle in Columbiana serving as President. In 2018, Sparkle Markets received the 2018 Retailer of the Year by the Cleveland Food Dealers Association.

I’ve written too many stories of Youngstown businesses of the past. It’s encouraged to see this Youngstown-based chain of stores making it in such a challenging environment 67 years after their beginnings. You can go to their website for specials, coupons, food tips and recipes. In an environment where so many retail establishments are controlled by remote main offices, it is refreshing to see a situation where local store owners still serve local communities.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!

Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Family Grocery Stores

Rulli Brothers

Rulli Brothers (from their Facebook page)

There was a time when there were local groceries and convenience stores in many neighborhoods of Youngstown. Almost all of them were family owned. When I was growing up on the West Side, I could walk up Oakwood hill and buy penny candy from Borey’s little store front. It seems they sold little more than snack foods and candy and mostly catered to the school kids walking by from Washington School.

Further up Oakwood, there was a small store opposite Borts Field known at least at one point as Zitello’s. Again, it was a great place to get a bottle of pop after swimming at Borts Pool or snacks on the way home from West Junior High to my home on Portland Avenue.

If we ran out of something and needed a loaf of bread or a bag of sugar, mom would send me down to “Pops” on Mahoning Avenue, a block and a half down the hill from my house. It was also my favorite place to buy baseball cards when I was in that phase.

For years, if we wanted to buy good ethnic baked goods and other foods, we’d go down to Cherol’s Market on Salt Spring Road. According to the Vindicator, Joe Cherol finally retired in 2011, selling the market.

One of the most iconic of these local stores was the Point Market located at the corner of South Avenue and Midlothian. You could always spot the store by the big rotating bright Red Delicious apple above the store. Before the extension of I-680 from South Avenue to Boardman, I would go by there every time I visited my girlfriend (now wife). When I made the left turn onto Midlothian by the Point Market I was almost to her house.

My wife added her memories to mine talking about Salata’s on Midlothian. Mr. Salata and her father were childhood friends and he’d come over on her father’s birthday and they enjoy a shot together! In later years, after her father passed, Salata’s would deliver her mom’s groceries because she did not drive.

Perhaps one of the most successful family groceries that is still going strong is Rulli Brothers, which first opened for business in 1917, the same year as Cherol’s. They were located at one time in downtown Youngstown but now have stores in Austintown and Boardman, still selling all the great ethnic foods and recipe ingredients that Youngstown loves.

Like many other neighborhood family run businesses, many of these were shuttered as they could not compete for cost and selection with the larger convenience and grocery chains. Others closed as the population migrated from the city or owners retired and no family wanted to carry on. Looking at a listing of stores in Youngstown I still recognize a few family names–Lariccia’s, Colla’s, Rashid’s and Gia Russa, but the list is dominated by regional and national chains.

I would love to hear about the family stores in the neighborhood you grew up in. Like neighborhood bars and other businesses, Youngstown has a rich heritage of family grocers that catered to the needs of their local communities. It would be great to capture some of that heritage of these hard-working local food purveyors that provided the raw ingredients for all those great Youngstown dishes!