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THE MORNING UNION (Springfield Republican)
Wednesday, December 12, 1984

Serio’s Reopening
Tribute To Founder

By NORMAND HENCHEY
(UNION STAFF) NORTHAMPTON

When Serio’s Inc. has its Grand Reopening today at a busy corner below Smith College, the counters, stock and fixtures will be brand new.But the reopening really is a tribute to the philosophy of its founder, the late Joseph Serio, who began selling fruits and vegetables here in 1902.

 

On Sept. 22, a fire devastated the store, at State and Center Streets. All of Serio’s merchandise and much of the equipment was discarded.Total cost of the fire and resultant damage was more than $150,000, according to Edward Cavallari, one of the partners in the store and the founder’s son-in-law.

I visited the store a couple of times during its rehabilitation and noticed that even when it was stuffed with all the new merchandise, new equipment, new carpentry and new paint all over, it was, just like a bride, still blessed by something old.

That something was a handful of old-fashioned principles embued in the fibers of his family by the founder of the business, Joseph Serio, in the early days of the century.

Among those principles festooned invisibly around the store are “mutual trust breeds mutual respect,” honesty is the best policy,” and “treat your customer as you, yourself, would wish to be treated.” The family doesn’t talk about those things;, it practices them every day.

The legacy of Joseph Serio is still the dominant feature of the company, one of the last independent grocery stores in the city, Josephine (Serio) Cavallari, his daughter, is president; Edward, her husband, is clerk of the corporation; his son, Leborio (Lester) Serio is vice president, and Mary, his wife, is treasurer.

Any fire is a calamity, but one of this proportion required serious family deliberation on whether to reopen.“As we have done in all our major business dealings,” Mrs. Cavallari said, “we held a meeting of the entire family and discussed just what we could do and could not do; what would be best for us, for the business, and for the future.

“We decided on a plan of action that we know our father would have taken; to rebuild and reopen. And that is what we did.”

Founder, Joseph Serio, left Termini Imerese, Sicily, in 1902 to come to America. He left behind the olive, lemon and orange groves of his family, the warm Sicilian sun which had shone on him for all of his 16 years, and the intense blue of the Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian Seas.He came with his dream to America and went to work for his stepfather and his cousin, Joseph LoBello, in the Boston Fruit Store on Main Street.

Joseph Serio was a serious and ambitious youth. He had a dream of achieving success in this country and he went about making it a reality all his life.

After six months in the Boston Fruit Store, he bought a couple of crates of strawberries from his cousin and went out on his own. He constructed a cart and pulled it up and down the streets, selling the entire load.

That marked the day he began his own fruit and vegetable business.

Later, he purchased the gray house at State and Center Streets and made it his home and business center.

In 1916, he bought a seven-acre truck farm in the meadowlands behind Bridge Street. Here, he raised his own fresh vegetables.

Mrs. Cavallari recalled that “Pa really pushed himself by working the farm early in the morning, peddling his produce all day, and farming again at night by the light of the moon. He literally molded the business with the strength of his hands.”

For our father, every day was a work day, but to him work was life. this is one of his tenents that he instilled in all of us.”

The business expanded and Joseph Serio traded in his pull cart for a horse and wagon, conducting his expanded business with increased mobility.

In 1922, he married Maria DeLisi of Providence, R.I., and they made their home in the gray house. She became not only a wife, but a lifelong business partner.In 1925, Joseph Serio bought his first Ford truck for $800, had a few driving lessons from the salesman, and he was on his own.

 

Every step to success was achieved by his paying attention to business, acquiring property, buying merchandise right, knowing his customers’ needs, and being thrifty. All these, plus hard work, paid off over the years.The Serios had three children, all brought up in the same mold as their father. Each learned that hard work paid dividends, that thrift could make a man wealthy, or nearly so, and that self-discipline and a thorough education were additional steps to success.

Throughout his life, Joseph Serio was a compassionate man, a trait all the family has to this day.

In 1935, he suffered a heart attack that curtailed his activities. The children pitched in more and more, and Josephine opened a vegetable stand at the side of their house that proved to be the embryo of the first Serio store that opened in 1943, the year Cosimo and Lester went into the service.

When they returned, family talks centered around building a new store. It would be the full realization of Joseph Serio’s dream.

In 1950, that dream became a reality when the D.A. Sullivan Construction Co. completed the present store. It was mortgaged through Smith Charities, a non-profit institution in Northampton founded in the will of Oliver Smith of Hatfield. The mortgage long-since has been paid off.

It had a pharmacy for Cosimo and a grocery for the rest of the family. The rectangular structure was built at a cost of $65,000 (at that time, you could buy a stalk of bananas for 50 cents.)

All the family works, or has worked, in the store or in the pharmacy. Most of the children are grown and in professions of their own, ranging from medicine and pharmacy to nuclear medicine.If you go down to Maria Serio’s house on Trumbull Road on any Sunday, you’ll find her busy getting dinner ready for 17 members of the family and enjoying it at 89 years of age. 
Joseph Serio came to America when Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House. He died in 1963, shortly after the assassination of one of the presidents he most admired, John F. Kennedy.