There was one place in Everett where the conversation and community was just as just as well-cured as the Sopressata and prosciutto.
That place was Luigi’s Grocery and it was the place that one could see the smiling face of Angelina Acierno behind the cash register – her son Franco at the ready to slice some cold cuts or prepare some fresh cheese.
Penny candy, soda, Italian specialties or quality breads – they were all there.
Now, after 45 years, the store at the corner of Morris and Walnut Streets has closed – officially locking the doors on May 1. It was the second Italian store in Everett, and one of the few left when it closed in May.
On Monday, family members, neighbors, former employees and City officials gathered for an informal good-bye to the store – which is on the ground floor of the family home, making it a real live-work situation for the Acierno family.
“A lot of memories; a lot of good times,” said Franco. “The community is changing, which is good, but whadda ya gonna do? With the COVID-19 happening and my mom’s having some issues, she decided to give it up.”
Angelina, who speaks mostly Italian, was surprised on Monday by the informal celebration and said she was proud of the store she and her late husband, Agostino, started in 1975.
Franco said the family bought the home in 1974 with the store underneath. Previously, it had been known as Pop’s Store, but Agostino decided his job, as a mechanic for State Auto Spring wasn’t cutting it. In 1975, he went to the City of Everett and petitioned to open a mechanic garage in the store, but the City nixed that idea.
So, he called his wife off her job with Converse Shoe and they decided to go into business with a store.
“My dad wanted to work for himself,” said Franco. “He saw an opportunity here. He went to City Hall and wanted to open a mechanic shop. They told him he could absolutely not do that because it was residential. He said, “Forget it, I’m opening up an Italian store then.’ We were the second Italian store in Everett. The first was Imperial Grocery and my father felt if they could do it, he could do it. We started with penny candy. My mother and father didn’t know how to speak English even…We then brought in groceries. Then my mother decided to put an oven in the basement and she started selling pizza.
“How much was a slice, ma?” Franco asked with a smile.
“It was 25 cents a slice,” said Angelina with a smile.
Franco said his father would sell a lot of cigarettes, but didn’t know what people were asking for. When people would ask for ‘Marlboro,’ he would point to every cigarette pack on the shelf until they nodded and said, “Yes, that one!”
Unfortunately, Agostino died young and he left Angelina and Franco to care for the store – which was always busy with high school and grade school students back in the day. The store was named ‘Luigi,’ Franco said, because Italians customarily would name the business after their first-born. In this case, that was Luigi.
“He got all the credit,” laughed Franco. “He worked here for two months and then left, but he got the name still.”
One of the great specialties of the store became their cold cuts, olives and bread. In the old days, those things weren’t readily available in heavily-Irish Greater Boston, so they would venture regularly to New York City.
“We would drive two or three times a month to the Bronx to get cold cuts like the dry sausage, the prosciutto and the ham,” he said. “New York was where Italian imports were from. That’s how we started it. Then we got into the bread, going to Terranova Bakery in the Bronx.”
The store was open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. most every day, and they could never have a Sunday dinner or a holiday without a neighbor venturing by to see if they would open the store so they could get something – one of the trappings of living above your workplace.
“On Sundays, we could never have a good dinner,” said Franco. “Everyone would always come by and need something.”
Inside the store, on the wall were memories of people and events that had come and go – a wall they call ‘The Shrine.’
“These are customers and friends – gone but never forgotten,” said Franco.
It’s also the place former employee Eric Navarrete signed his name after graduating Everett High a few years ago and heading off to the U.S. Marines. Navarrete came in wanting to work behind the counter as a young man, but Angelina had that space pretty well reserved. Instead, he learned everything from the family – how to drive, how to slice cold cuts, how to paint and just about everything in between.
On Monday, he also returned – more a member of the family than a former employee. That was the case for Angelica Santonastaso, who was also a part-time worker there when she was a kid as well.
Her mother, Tina Santonastaso, said she has already missed the store, something that was a daily part of her life for decades.
“I was here every day; I only live four houses down,” she said. “I miss her already. This is the last one left like this. It’s a great story.”
City Councilor Michael McLaughlin said he spent his entire childhood in the store, living just a few blocks away.
“When we first moved here in the 1980s, this was the place we were allowed to come,” he said. “This is the first store in Everett my brother and I would go to. I always went for the penny candy and Mrs. Acierno was so nice to the kids. I literally grew up in this store.”
Years ago, Franco said, they used to hang the cold cuts from the ceiling in the traditional way, and the City of Everett always used to come by and ask them to take it down for health code reasons.
“That was kind of the whole purpose of an Italian store, but they always came and wanted us to take it down and so we did,” he said.
Like that – and the original cheese grater in the back of the store – the inventory of the store and the contents that lasted 45 years are now down and gone too.
Yet the memories remain and will for some time.
“Salute!” said Franco in Italian as friends, neighbors and family enjoyed one last toast to the old Luigi’s Grocery on Monday evening.