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!