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
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.