The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 29, 2013

Marks grocery a pioneer for ethnic specialty shops

An Editor's Notes

By Jim Raykie

---- — On a recent trip to Pittsburgh, I strolled through the Strip District, of course. In addition to giving a regular donation at the Rivers Casino, walking the strip is one of my favorite Pittsburgh pastimes.

It’s got that old-world charm, with vendors selling their goods, in addition to the specialty stores and other shops. You can feel the history there while enjoying the age-old traditions.

When I was walking through the Pennsylvania Macaroni Co., one of the must-stops when I’m there, I recalled that how on a much smaller scale, the former Marks Grocery in Farrell served the Shenango Valley residents for decades.

When I was a kid growing up in an Italian household in Farrell, it was a regular stop for my parents and my grandfather. The store, which featured Italian specialties and has been closed for several years, is located at Roemer Boulevard and Hamilton Avenue.

It was only about four blocks from my grandfather’s house on Emerson Avenue near Idaho Street, and we most times would walk down Hamilton, past the former Little League field, and up the one-block hill to Marks.

It was a gathering spot for shoppers from throughout the valley. The store, which was in the family for more than a century, was attached to the Marks’ home. Shoppers often could be found sitting around the kitchen table talking and snacking, either before shopping or after they were finished.

Although it has been years since I have been in the store, a visit to a place like the Strip District brings back all of the aromas of the meats, cheeses, olives and fishes that I experienced in my youth.

I was never a fan of olives (true to this day, except for green ones stuffed with pimientos) but I was amazed at the activity around them as shoppers would scoop out their favorite varieties.

My favorite as a kid (true to this day as well) was the aged, very sharp provolone cheese that my grandfather would buy. I tease my daughter, who is a fan of sliced provolone, but the very mild variety that is popular in delicatessens in area grocery stores..

I tell her regularly, “That’s not provolone,” as a describe the variety that had such a bite you would feel it on tongue and gums as you savored it.

James “Champ” Marks and his sister, Dolly, owned the store up until they retired. Debbie Galardo, a high school classmate who recently moved to Texas, is their niece and spent much of her childhood at the store.

Debbie’s mom died when she was 17, and Aunt Dolly stepped in and served a second mom for Debbie ... ad still does.

I got a Facebook message from Debbie recently, noting that Aunt Dolly had celebrated a milestone birthday, turning 90. Both she and Champ, who is 78, have had recent health issues, but are still enjoying every day to the fullest.

Cheers to Champ and Dolly ... the number of folks that passed through the front doors of their grocery store throughout the years is unthinkable.

Sarandrea back on bench, sort of ...

It’s been more than a decade since Sharon schools Supt. John Sarandrea was plying his trade as a highly-succcessful high school basketball coaach.

But the congenial Sarandrea was back on the hardwood  Friday night for one night only – coaching the Sharon City School District’s faculty team as part of the Shenango Valley Urban League’s “Faculty Clash for Cash.”

The annual fundraiser, which helps to raise scholarship funds, was staged at Sharpsville High School this year. The game rotates among participating schools.

The New York City-bred Sarandrea was the coacch at St. Nicholas of Tolentine High School in the Bronx before coming to New Castle High, where he gave up coaaching to enter administration.

Jim Raykie is the executive editor of The Herald and writes this column on Mondays.