Front View of Thomas House

Ward-Thomas Museum

Ohio Association of Historical Societies and Museums

Five images of buildings and grounds

The Roberts' Grocery Store in the East End of Niles.

Ward — Thomas Museum
Home of the Niles Historical Society
503 Brown Street Niles, Ohio 44446

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Pictured: L-R: Grandpa Tony Roberts holding Sam Roberts, Steve Roberts (my father) on grass, Grandma Alfonsina holding Louie Roberts. Michael Spizuoco, Grandma’s brother, is standing to her left.

Memories of My Grandparent's Store.

In 1914 my grandparents, Alfonsina and Tony Roberts, traveled from Quadrelle, a small town near Naples, Italy and settled in Niles, Ohio. Grandpa got a part time job at Stevens Steel Mill. In 1930, they bought a two-story house on the corner of Wood and Reno Streets to raise their seven sons. They needed extra income, so decided to turn a portion of the house into a grocery store. Almost from the beginning, my grandmother took over the store and became an exceptional businesswoman for her time.

I marveled at her capability in the grocery store. She used a ledger book to record neighborhood purchases. Self-taught in English, she carefully noted each item with a slow manner, almost in a calligraphy fashion. She did this using a carpenter’s pencil for posting. I recall her shaping a pencil point using a sharp knife kept behind the meat case.

It was a well stocked Italian store, the wonderful aromas of cheeses, salamis, pepperoni and cold cuts filled your nostrils as you entered the store. Shelves were lined with bottles and cans of imported olive oils and delicacies. Barrels of black and green olives sat colorfully by the meat case. Large parmesan cheese rounds hung on the back wall. Next to them was a long-handled reaching stick with gripping prongs to help my short grandmother obtain cans from the top shelves. Everything was so orderly, even the home made ricotta pies in the cooler were pre-cut and ready to be sold either by the slice or the entire pie.

People from nearby streets of Fulton, Mason, Fenton, Cedar and Robbins Avenue came to the store on a regular basis. I helped my grandmother bake pizzas every Friday for Uncle Louie’s Landmark Cafe’ on State Street in downtown Niles. The local patrons looked forward to these tasty pies every week.

As a child of seven, I spent long summer hours with my grandmother in the store. I never had to want for treats as a kid. On a hot summer day, I dug into the deep freezer with its double-hinged folding top and retrieved a frozen orange popsicle. The large candy case contained every kid’s dream...peanut-buttery Mary Jane’s, root beer barrels, candy buttons on a strap, Turkish Taffy, bubble gum and licorice straps.

Shortly before Christmas, large barrels of smelts, squid and dried codfish arrived at the store. Grandma soaked the cod in preparation for the traditional fish meals served Christmas Eve. Later that evening, the whole family attended Midnight Mass where she sang in the choir.
Grandma died in 1951 and Grandpa ran the store until his death in 1969. Later, family members bought the house and turned the store into a pizza parlor. Tony and Alfonsina Roberts had seven sons; Gene, Michael, Peter, Carmen, Sam, Steve, and Louie. Wonderful grandparents...wonderful memories!

This story was sent to The Niles Historical Society from Eileen Roberts, formerly of Niles, Ohio.

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